Brad Lambert, a polarizing but highly skilled prospect

There is perhaps no more polarizing prospect in this draft class than Brad Lambert.

There was a time when Lambert was seen as a player who could potentially topple Shane Wright as the No. 1 prospect in the class, but his stock has fallen over the past two seasons. Those rating the Finnish forward point to his elite skating ability and top-notch skill with the puck, while critics worry about his declining production, effort level and penchant for playing on the perimeter of the ice.

Lambert comes from a deep hockey background; his father Ross played professionally in Europe and worked as a skills coach, his uncle Lane was recently named head coach of the Islanders, his uncle Dale coaches an U18 AAA team in Saskatoon and his cousin Jimmy played four seasons at Michigan before to sign an AHL contract with the Bridgeport Islanders.

As the Blue Jackets prepare to make their selections ranked 6th and 12th overall on July 7, here’s what to know about Lambert, who ranks 10th on the NHL Central Scouting list European skaters:

Position: center/wing

Size weight: 6-0.5, 183

Shots: Right

Date of Birth: December 19, 2003

Hometown: Lahti, Finland/Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, CAN

Team (League): JYP and Lahti (Liiga)

2021-22 point totals: Two goals and four assists in 26 games with JYP; Two goals and two assists in 24 games for Lahti

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What are Brad Lambert’s strengths?

Lambert might just be the best skater outside of the NHL right now. His skating is this good.

Skating experts often tell the difference between a fast skater and a fast skater, and Lambert is both. He has the edge control, agility, and mobility to change direction quickly and move sideways well while using his near-perfect technique and mechanics to be quick in a straight line. And he mixes that skating ability with incredible skill with the puck – a skill he can access even at high speeds, as his hands follow his feet seemingly effortlessly.

Speed ​​and skill are what NHL teams always look for in the draft, and Lambert’s toolbox is one of the strongest in this draft. Particularly against his peers, like when he scored five points in two games at the short-lived World Junior Championships in December, Lambert can be a commanding presence and exert his will on the game.

What are Brad Lambert’s weaknesses?

Scouts have big concerns about Lambert’s consistency. He’s often criticized for taking nights off and being nonchalant away from the puck, though Lambert has pushed back against those claims in recent weeks.

When requested by The Athletic at the combine to respond to one of his reconnaissance reports, Lambert took issue with a sentence about him “taking too many nights off”.

“I know personally that every time I go out there I give it my all,” Lambert said. “Some games are obviously better than others, but every time I go on the ice I give maximum effort. … I think about how competitive I am, how hard I work, I don’t take any night off.”

Playing on two low-scoring teams at both JYP and Lahti didn’t help, but the strip reflects a player who often put in inconsistent efforts, especially in defensive zone coverage.

Lambert also tends to hang on to the puck for too long while skating circles around the area, which he can do due to his strong skating ability, but it rarely gets him to play. This is where the criticism that he plays too much on the perimeter comes from the ice, and he sometimes holds the puck looking for the perfect, dangerous pass instead of making a simpler play.

And while part of Lambert’s lack of production could be explained by such a low shooting percentage, part of it has to be bad luck – he’s scored four goals on 132 shots this year – 10 points in 49 games is a alarming production for a better hope, even one that plays against men.

A team looking to draft Lambert would bet on his elite skills to lead him to NHL success, knowing there’s a lot of work to be done in his game.

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How would Brad Lambert fit into the Blue Jackets system?

Lambert is somewhat reminiscent of Kent Johnson with his shrewd and skilful style, although Lambert is a much better skater – which is saying something, because Johnson is a very good skater in his own right. Both players are debating whether they will play center or wing in the NHL.

Part of Lambert’s struggles in Liiga came from a lack of chemistry with his linemates, and while he wasn’t faultless in that regard, and it wasn’t the only reason he struggled, it makes the prospect of pairing Lambert with a player with similar skills to Johnson very intriguing. . When Lambert has teammates who can keep up with him and his creativity, he can be electric.

From a prospect pool perspective, adding a player with the superior skills of a top five pick is always beneficial, regardless of pool strength. Lambert would instantly become one of the Blue Jackets’ best skaters and one of the most talented as well. If he hits his ceiling, he projects himself into the top six forwards with significant attacking impact, and a team can never have too much of that.

Will Brad Lambert be available for the Blue Jackets?

The short answer: Lambert will almost certainly be available at No. 12.

The longer answer: Lambert is a classic example of a high-risk, high-reward pick that could make sense for a team with multiple first-round picks. In this year’s draft, seven teams have multiple first-round picks: Anaheim (10, 22), Arizona (3, 27, 32), Buffalo (9, 16, 28), Columbus (6, 12), Minnesota (19 , 24), Montreal (1, 26) and Winnipeg (14, 30).

The Jackets have the second-highest pick of teams with multiple selections, which essentially means they’re the first team that could hit Lambert with their second pick. It’s possible Lambert could go higher than No. 12, as anything is possible on draft night, but given the risk inherent in his selection, it’s highly unlikely.

Athletic’s Corey Pronman suggested on Thursday that Lambert can’t be selected until his mid to late 20s, which seems too low for a player with his upside, but teams can lean more conservatively and risk averse on da’s draft.

How long until Brad Lambert is ready for the NHL?

Lambert is a work in progress at this point. After two disappointing years in Liiga, with a total of 25 points in 98 games, perhaps a change of scenery would breathe new life into his evolution. The rare draft prospect who is essentially a free agent, Lambert has options to get this new landscape.

He’s not under contract anywhere for next season so he could return to Liiga with a new contract with Lahti or another league side. He could also join the CHL and play for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, who acquired the rights to Lambert from the Saskatoon Blades on Thursday. Lambert had previously considered playing for the Blades in the 2021-22 season but decided to stay in Finland, believing the Liiga’s two-way orientation was more important for his development.

Lambert could also play professionally in North America in the AHL. A move to smaller ice in North America, whether in juniors or the AHL, could prove beneficial, though Lambert told the combine he’s keeping his options open.

“It will depend on the draft, which team drafts me, so I want to do what they think is best for my development,” Lambert said. “I am open to everything.”

Regardless of where he ends up playing in the fall, Lambert is likely at least a year or two away from being ready to be a full-time NHL player.

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