Going into the 2019-20-season, Anton Lundell was widely considered to be a top-three prospect after impressing in his rookie campaign with HIFK from Finnish capital Helsinki. Even though he impressed in Liiga as a 17-year-old, he ended up falling out of the top 10 before the Florida Panthers picked him up with the 12th overall selection.
Last year, the presumptive first overall selection heading into the 2020-21 campaign was Uleåborg native Aatu Räty. One rough season in Liiga later, and Räty not only lost out on being the first ever Finnish player selected as number one overall, but even tumbled out of the entire first round before being scooped up by the New York Islanders at pick 52.
In the years leading up to the 2022 Draft, the talk of the town was that this would be a competition between three highly rated youngsters: OHL exceptional status rhinestone Shane Wright, Alberta native Matthew Savoie, and the prospect we’re covering today; Finnish-Canadian forward Brad Lambert.
As things currently stand, two weeks prior to the Bell Centre showdown that will be the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, Wright still seems like a lock for the top three while both Savoie and Lambert have fallen slightly out of favour. Especially the Finn, who suddenly looks uncertain to be chosen with one of the first 10 selections on July 7.
Birthplace: Lahti, Finland
Date of birth: December 19, 2003
Position: Centre/Right Wing
Weight: 183 lbs.
Team: Pelicans (Liiga)
Let’s get right to the point here. What happened in between last year and now that made the hockey community sour on Lambert? After all, this is a player who played games in Liiga for HIFK already in the 2019-20 season. After enjoying a breakout year, scoring 15 points in 48 games in 2020-21 with JYP from Jyväskylä, this year was supposed to be when Lambert took the step from boy to man, from super talent to a fully developed star in Finnish hockey. Sadly, his season took a nosedive early on and never recovered, not unlike what we’ve previously witnessed from the aforementioned Räty.
After only contributing two goals and less than a handful of assists during the opening half of the season, JYP and Lambert agreed to terminate his contract, giving him the chance of a fresh start elsewhere. He went for a familiar alternative, choosing to sign with the Pelicans from his native town of Lahti. Going back home would surely serve the youngster well and give him the best chance to shine, while improving his declining draft stock. Instead, the scenario which transpired was eerily similar to what he had done in JYP. He played around 14 minutes per game and managed just four more points before the season was over.
A total point tally of 10 through a span of 48 games combined on two Liiga teams was not enough to keep Lambert in the top-three, or even top-five, conversation when the final draft rankings started to get published. How much we should really take from this one bad year remains to be seen.
Elite Prospects: #14
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #11
NHL Central Scouting: #10 (European Skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) #14
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #8
As a player, Brad Lambert is a wonderfully gifted transition player who shines through his skating ability and overall mobility. Elite Prospects for one ranked him as the best straight-line skater in this entire draft during a survey among their staff, and Corey Pronman from The Athletic was of the same opinion when he ranked players in individual skill categories, as were McKeen’s when they ranked the fastest skater.
Brad Lambert (2022) goes end to end. pic.twitter.com/nUWmPJSwug— draft guy (@DraftLook) December 25, 2020
His problem right now seems to be that he thinks he’s equally impressive in all other aspects of his game as well. His offensive decision-making is still very raw, as he more often than not tries to go for the difficult pass or shot rather than just extending plays and biding his time. Some would call that low hockey IQ, while others would mark it down in the growth pains category.
As frustrating as this can be for both teammates and coaches to witness, we have to remember that this is an 18-year-old we’re talking about. With the proper structure around him, there are at least some quite significant tools to work with and to mould into a future NHLer.
Apart from the skating technique and pace, Lambert impresses by having good size and good overall creativity which, when used properly, is easy on the eye. He was able to demonstrate some of his skill level when he played against his peers in the shortened World Junior Championship in December. In the two games played before the tournament was shut down, Lambert played thoroughly well, registering five points while consistently looking like a man amongst boys.
I can imagine some people out there reacting to his 10 points this season and pointing fingers at Juraj Slafkovsky, who managed exactly the same production this year. However, there is no complete comparison to be made here.
Firstly, Slafkovsky played 17 fewer games in Liiga in 2021-22. Secondly, he benefited from playing for a weaker hockey nation, meaning that he could demonstrate his growth on an international stage as a strong counterpart to his weaker domestic production. Last but not least, whether you agree with the assessment or not, expectations will always be higher in year two if you’ve already enjoyed a successful rookie campaign. By this time one year ago, Slafkovsky had not played in a single Liiga game while also not having produced a single point in his 11 international games (U20 as well as the men’s team) with Slovakia. Lambert had already amassed 50 senior games as well as contributing for Finland on their road to a bronze medal in the 2021 World Juniors. Slafkovsky is this year’s flavour of the month. Simultaneously, the exclamation point that was 2021 Brad Lambert has been remoulded into something more resembling a question mark.
If Lambert’s fall were to continue on the first night of the draft and he suddenly drops outside of top 15, this is the type of player I personally would like Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton to consider trading up for. Offering elite transition ability and top-six upside, you could do a lot worse with a mid-first-round draft selection.