WINNIPEG – Chaz Lucius was a late beginner, but a quick study.
The Minnesota product only started playing hockey when he was eight years old, but he has mastered one of the sport’s toughest skills and has become a pure sniper.
Lucius, known as one of the most skilled shooters in the 2021 NHL Draft, was selected by the Winnipeg Jets with the 18th overall pick on Friday night.
“What stands out the most is his ability to score goals and his ability to create openings. He has an incredible club and he combines that skill set and his shooting and his ability to make plays, ”said US U18 National Team Development Program head coach Dan Muse in a telephone interview. “He has great common sense and he feels offensive. His ability to find open pockets, with the right moment, to open. He’s got a really special shot, but he also has that sense of how to get into great positions to use that skill.
“He’s a guy who can make unusual plays, he can beat guys one on one, he can score from a distance, he’s willing to hit the net. It also has a great touch on the net. It has that versatility. It is a very good combination. I really think he’s one of, if not the best, natural scorer in this year’s draft. It is definitely there as one of the best. He has shown it at all levels and will continue to be able to create open and will be able to show that shot and that skill set at higher levels. “
That’s precisely what Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his scouting team are counting on and what made him attractive when it came time to step onto the virtual podium.
“He had to go through some adversity. He had some injuries that limited the number of games he could play, but we are very excited, ”said Cheveldayoff. “It’s a very good value pick where we got it. A really skilled player, a player of very good character. The interview process we did with him was fantastic. He knows a lot about his game, about how to play. Just a great self-awareness of what his game is. He works very hard at it, he is very skilled.
“Every time you can catch a center with those kinds of skills and those kinds of qualities, it’s a good day for the draft.”
Despite his relatively late introduction to the sport, it didn’t take Lucius long to get hooked.
“Hockey was actually one of the last sports I was involved in. Growing up in Minnesota, all my friends played it, so I started at age eight and never looked back, “Lucius said. “I fell in love with the game. I would say that from that point on I was all-in in hockey and I was really passionate about the sport. That’s when my love for hockey began and continues to this day. “
How did Lucius develop that heavy shot and quick release?
“I’d say it’s more of the work ethic and shooting pucks every day, whether it’s off-angle shots, regular shots, or one of my good shots,” Lucius said. “Whatever it is, I feel like that really helped my skills. So obviously natural ability plays a role in that too and that helps. “
Like Cole Perfetti after the Jets selected him 10th in the 2020 NHL Draft, Lucius mentioned Jets top center Mark Scheifele as a player he looks up to.
“He’s a guy that I really try to model my game with and he’s great now that I’ve been drafted by the Jets and I have him as an idol of mine,” Lucius said. “I am looking forward to the opportunity there and will continue to watch his game.”
Lucius is heading to the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers men’s hockey program this fall.
After committing to the program at the young age of 14, Lucius is excited to take the next step in his journey after enduring many adversities during his draft season.
Lucius had been projected to break into the Top-10 before sustaining a bone injury to his left knee two years ago that required surgery last summer and limited him to just 25 games last season.
“With the injury, it wasn’t the best thing that could happen to me in my draft year, but I really did it as it happened and (with) the recovery process. I really couldn’t control it at all, so from day 1, I wasn’t really sad or angry, ”said Lucius, who will attend a summer exhibition in Michigan with a collection of players who could represent the United States. at the 2022 World Youth Hockey Championship. “Whatever happens with the draft, it can (be). I’m glad I’m a Winnipeg Jet now and I’m very lucky to have been recruited. It’s close to home for me, so that’s a bonus. I’d say it’s a very fun team to watch, fast paced. “
You can count Muse among the many people who were impressed by how Lucius handled himself during the long road to recovery, which included spending time in a wheelchair and having to spend a lot of time in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber as a way to help speed up. the process before he had to learn to walk again.
“Obviously, he produced at a very high rate,” Muse said. “He’s coming out of a time where he couldn’t skate that much and that’s something that will get better with time as well.”
The Jets’ next pick is 50th overall and after the second round, they currently only have two more picks on Saturday, 82nd (third round) and 146th (fifth round).
Despite the limited number of picks, the Jets weren’t tempted to switch to try and replenish the pool of picks.
“We made a few decisions either way on a preliminary basis, but when we started to see how it played out, we really felt like we were in a really good place,” Cheveldayoff said. “So it wasn’t a big problem for us to look back. Every draft will be presented differently, but when you’re in the middle like that, you know you’re going to get a good pick. “
It was another busy day in the NHL on the trading front, with several highly successful trades completed, including one made within the Central Division by the Chicago Blackhawks, who acquired defender Seth Jones from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Vancouver Canucks completed a trade for defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson and winger Conor Garland of the Arizona Coyotes, while the Philadelphia Flyers acquired blue player Rasmus Ristolainen from the Buffalo Sabers.
Ristolainen was a player the Jets had previously shown interest in as a potential option to bolster the right side, but the price ended up being too high for a guy who was just one season away from trying unrestricted free agency for the first time.
How do Friday’s moves, along with the pending Seattle Kraken inking from UFA D-men Jamie Oleksiak and Adam Larsson earlier in the week, impact the Jets’ quest for improvements on the blue line?
What we know for sure is that the cost of upgrading the back-end will be high, whether the jets add a free agent next week or can complete a trade.
“We were active on a couple of fronts. Obviously, there were some great ones that did work, ”said Cheveldayoff. “We weren’t in some of them, for several different reasons, but we’re going to keep looking and see if there is an opportunity, either through trade now or through free agency, if we have that opportunity or it could be an exchange that maybe also happen in the future. We have to be prepared for everything and we will see how things develop. “