The Hamilton Spectator
Red-hot Lardis is making his point(s)
Young winger obtained in Jan. 7 trade has nearly two points per game in Bulldogs’ playoff push
There was a rare occurrence Friday night in Kitchener when the Rangers clobbered the Hamilton Bulldogs 8-1.
Nick Lardis did not record a point. Since he was dealt to the Dogs on Jan. 7 as the fulcrum of a tradedeadline deal that signalled that the Peterborough Petes were all-in to chase an OHL title and the Bulldogs were looking well beyond the near horizon, it was only the second time Lardis has not found the scoresheet.
But in his other 13 games as a Bulldog, the 17-year-old winger from Oakville has a stunning 15 goals and 12 assists, including the opening goal and eventual game winner, plus an assist on Lawson Sherk’s empty-netter, in Hamilton’s critical 4-2 victory over those same Petes Saturday afternoon at FirstOntario Centre.
It was the 10th multi-point game for the Bulldogs who can say they have seen the future and the future is probably Lardis. With the Dogs heading to Brantford, it might be advisable to take advantage of the Bulldogs’ three home games on the Family Day weekend to go and see this guy. His game is built around exceptional breakaway speed, and a quick and accurate release, with a healthy dose of hockey IQ, and at five-foot-eleven and 165 pounds, he’ll get stronger as time goes on.
On Saturday’s opening goal, Lardis worked himself open on the power play and quickly fired home Jorian Donovan’s relay. On his second, he simply blew around the Petes’ defender — ex-Bulldog Gavin White — cut tightly across the front of the crease and deftly tucked the puck away.
“He’s a special player,” says head coach Jay McKee, who’s occasionally made Lardis an assistant captain, including on Saturday. “We’ve put him in every kind of game situation and he’s excelled with every challenge.”
Bulldogs’ GM Matt Turek has known Lardis since the player was 11 years old and attending Turek’s summer skills schools. When he was ready to deal away some older stars from last spring’s OHL champs, he landed Landis (2021’s sixth-overall choice) and the leadership of overage centre Sahil Panwar, plus draft choices for leading scorer Avery Hayes and White.
McKee teamed Lardis with Panwar and diligent Patrick Thomas and they have quickly become the Dogs’ No. 1 line.
“I played with Panwar in Peterborough much of the year,” Lardis says. “You can see the chemistry with me and Thomas and Panwar. I’m getting so much more opportunity here than in Peterborough: on the penalty kill, the power play; the last minutes of the game. It’s so good for my development.”
The day Lardis was dealt to Hamilton, McKee pulled “the opportunity story” out of his bag of personal hockey tales and told it to his new arrival.
Like Lardis, McKee had been a 17-year-old in his NHL draft year, traded from a 1995 OHL contender (Sudbury) to a rebuilding team (Niagara Falls). He thought that playing on a good team would make him look better and that it would be harder to perform well on a team preparing for the future.
“And I was wrong,” Mckee says. “I was likely, a sixth-or-seven rounder when I was in Sudbury.”
A few months after being traded, he was the Buffalo Sabres’ firstround draft choice, 14th overall.
Lardis says his mind was already there.
“Obviously it would have been fun to go for it this year but I’ve been looking at all the positives,” he said. “I think it was more important to show my speed and skill with more ice time and to come to Hamilton, which is close to home,” he told The Spec.
“It was my first time experiencing going to another team. I played for the Oakville Rangers for 13 years and never switched teams, but it’s been an awesome month and a half and it’s an awesome organization. I couldn’t be luckier.”
Lardis has been projected as an NHL third rounder but his nearlytwo-points-a-game average since coming to Hamilton, his speed and quick release, and a strong performance at the Canadian Hockey League’s Top Prospects Game — he ranked the highest of all players in the on-ice testing — could shunt him up. Especially if the Dogs continue to defy their now-youngestin-the-league roster with surprisingly strong play.
Saturday’s win pulled the Bulldogs to within three points of the Petes, who through Saturday night were in fifth place in the tight midpack of the OHL East. They’ve got more key games this week with a Wednesday visit to Oshawa (ninth and currently out of a playoff spot), followed by home games Friday night against third place Barrie, Sunday (2 p.m.) against Kingston, and Monday (2 p.m.) in a payback meeting with Kitchener.
“I was really optimistic when I came here and it’s working out, the team’s gelling,” Lardis says. “There isn’t a better spot for me than this.”