Former Penguins 2nd-rounder Zachary Lauzon not giving up dream
Zachary Lauzon’s once-promising professional hockey career remains in doubt.
But the former highly touted Pittsburgh Penguins draft choice sounds as if he has achieved a level of content perspective for a 20-year-old in his position.
“If I look back on who I was and how I was feeling mentally a year ago, I’m a totally different person,” Lauzon said last week from Penguins development camp. “I feel like I have grown a lot. I have matured a lot in this process, and I am 100% sure that hockey-wise and just professional life after my hockey career is going to be a period of my lifetime I will be able to go back and use the experience I acquired to help me with any situations in my life.”
As Lauzon spoke last week from an auxiliary locker room at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, he had just come off the ice after what he described as his first true, up-tempo practice in more than seven months.
Lauzon, a defenseman, still has yet to play a game in more than a year, a function of concussion problems. They have stalled a career that had him sought after enough he was the Penguins’ first pick of the 2017 draft (51st overall). The Penguins let last month’s NHL-imposed deadline pass without signing Lauzon, a development that could have been devastating to Lauzon and fostered ill will between him and the organization.
Not so. He’s just happy to be allowed back on the ice and finally be symptom-free.
“It’s tough for them to give me a contract if I don’t play,” Lauzon said.
Lauzon has played in only 25 games since the Penguins drafted him, all during the 2017-18 season for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Lauzon wasn’t healthy enough to take part in either of the Penguins’ first two development camps after he was drafted.
So it was strange that Lauzon’s first practice wearing a Penguins jersey did not come until after he had been officially renounced as a member of the organization (Lauzon was part of this year’s development camp, effectively, as a tryout).
“Through all that (concussion-recovery) process, I had a lot of ups and downs and (the Penguins) were really good with me,” Lauzon said. “They didn’t put pressure on me.
“I needed to step back, and they understood that. Once I was able to get the right treatment, I got better and better, and for them to give me another chance this year, it’s really awesome. I am coming here, and I just want to work hard.”
Lauzon’s next stop is the University of New Brunswick. And while the Canadian college circuit is rarely the path for the best prospects, Penguins player development coach Tom Kostopoulos said he believes Lauzon still can make it to the NHL.
“He’s gone through a lot of adversity,” Kostopoulos said, “and he’s worked through it, and he’s feeling healthy. So I think mentally, it’s made him stronger, and he’s physically worked on getting stronger. So I think he’s in a good spot right now.”
Lauzon rattled off a list of attributes he can improve on to get his career back on track. But he spoke perhaps even more about his mental health and how he’s proud of himself for enduring through the frustration and pain of the concussion-related absence.
“What’s most important,” Lauzon said, “is that I’m healthy and happy.”
And not giving up on his NHL dreams.
“I still have the mentality to play in the NHL one day and getting a professional contract from the Penguins,” Lauzon said. “They drafted me for a reason.
“I just need a little bit of time, and I don’t see why if everything goes well why we can’t work together any more.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .