CRANBERRY, Pa -- Zachary Lauzon is just grateful to be here.
Lauzon, finally healthy for the first time since the Penguins drafted him in the second round in 2017, is attending the Penguins' development camp as a free-agent invitee after they relinquished their signing rights to Lauzon earlier in the month. And that's only part of his challenging route to get here: He suffered a concussion during the 2017 QMJHL playoffs, two months before the Penguins drafted him. He attempted to return three separate times during the 2017-18 season, and his symptoms returned each time.
"I was dealing with neck problems with my symptoms, coming back and on again, and I wasn't able to be 100 percent healthy the season after my draft year," Lauzon recalled for me Wednesday at the Lemieux Sports Complex. "I was putting all of the pressure on myself."
Over the summer, Lauzon's agent connected him with Plasticity Brain Centers in Orlando, the same organization Sidney Crosby turned to during his concussion problems. Lauzon's doctor was able to diagnose Lauzon's neck injury and developed a treatment plan that worked for him.
The bad luck didn't stop, though. Lauzon was aiming for a December return in 2018-19, but a broken foot ended his season.
"I was hoping on playing in a game last year, but unfortunately I had a couple of bad bounces," Lauzon said. "I broke my foot during a workout, so I decided to take the season off and just take care of myself. I'm glad about how I feel today and where I am. I'm just looking forward.
"At the end of the day it took longer than expected," Lauzon said of his recovery. "If I would have been able to see that doctor right after my injury, I think the story would be different. I have no regrets, I'm happy to be where I am and I'm just looking forward from now on."
With the Penguins relinquishing their signing rights to Lauzon, and Lauzon being too old to return to the QMJHL, he has committed to the University of New Brunswick for the 2019-20 season. New Brunswick is the reigning U Sports University Cup champion.
"It's a great hockey program, it's a great plan B for me," Lauzon said. "If I still have a chance to sign a pro contract, that would be my No. 1 option. But I know that if it doesn't happen, I'll be able to play some great quality hockey next year."
Tom Kostopoulos, the Penguins' development coach, said the organization was just happy to see Lauzon at 100 percent health and back on the ice, and that Lauzon has gotten both physically and mentally stronger while rehabbing from his injuries.
"I think we all wish the best for him, and just want to see him in a competitive environment and see what he can do," Kostopoulos added. "I think it will be a big year for him. He's got a lot to prove, and I think that he can do it."
Whether Lauzon earns a contract out of this camp or plays for New Brunswick in the fall, he's just thankful that the Penguins organization has stuck by him over the past two seasons.
"The Penguins helped me financially to go (to Orlando), because it's really expensive," Lauzon said. "For that, I'm very fortunate to have landed in a great organization that took great care of me despite all my injuries and all the bad stuff that happened to me. It's a great gesture for them to give me another chance like this this year, I'm really happy to be here."
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