Brad Lambert is a player with skill, speed, and the kind of easy talent that’s highly noticeable on the ice. But what’s he like off the ice?
There may not be a prospect in the 2022 NHL Draft class who has been on the scene as long, or generated as much attention (presumptive No. 1 pick Shane Wright, with his exceptional status into the OHL, included) as Brad Lambert.
He’s a player with skill, and speed, and the kind of easy talent that leaps off the ice at you and earned him a Liiga contract at just 15 years old.
He’s the next in a lineage of hockey bloodlines, too. There’s his dad, who was raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and played pro hockey in England before meeting his mom, a Finn. There are his uncles, Lane — a former second-round pick of the Red Wings in 1983 who played six seasons in the NHL and was recently named the head coach of the New York Islanders after two decades coaching in the WHL, AHL and NHL — and Dale — who followed a similar path to Brad’s dad and now coaches the Saskatoon Contacts’ AAA program — too. Dale even has a son named Jimmy, who just spent four years playing at the University of Michigan, the last two of which he served as one of the Wolverines’ assistant captains.
Those things make you a topic of conversation in hockey circles by default.
They also follow you, though. And when the microscope shines bright enough, it can burn if things go even a little off course.
This season, that’s what happened for the 18-year-old who was once in the discussion with Wright for No. 1 in the draft, now still the No. 5-ranked European skater according to NHL Central Scouting. He wasn’t perfect. There was an early illness and injury and the slow start which followed them. There was a glimpse of that stardom on the world stage, only for the light to be put out as it was turning on. And then there was a pair of moves — of teams and of agencies — as he fought to finish stronger than he was able to start.
But outside of this microscope, who is Brad Lambert?
Well, he’s more than the kid with a Canadian name who was born in Lahti, Finland, a city of 120,000 people located in the country’s south along Lake Vesijarvi, and grew up to pull a Finnish jersey over his head, became a star as a teenager, and grabbed and then maybe briefly, lost grip of that limelight.
On the evening of June 23, just a couple of weeks out from his draft day, he spoke for a near half-hour long phone call with The Athletic. The goal was to try to pull back the layers behind the name.
The following is the transcript of our chat, edited lightly.
Responses have been edited for clarity and length.
Scott Wheeler: Thanks for doing this.
Brad Lambert: Of course.
Wheeler: The goal here is simple. I just want to give people a sense for who you are. I find that with kids in the draft, especially the top prospects, it’s a little too easy to just focus on hockey, hockey, hockey all the time. And I’ve got some questions for you about that as well but I really just want to use this as an opportunity to introduce you to our readers.
The best place to start is always by setting the scene. Where are you calling me from?
Lambert: I’m in Toronto right now.
Wheeler: Whereabouts in Toronto?
Lambert: Newmarket. I’ve been training here with Gary Roberts and his team since I came back from the combine.
(Wheeler laughs in the background)
Wheeler: Believe it or not, I’m sitting in my home in Newmarket as we speak.
Lambert: (Laughs) Oh really!? We could have done this in person then I guess!
Wheeler: Yeah, no kidding! I heard a couple of weeks ago that you were actually training with Gary Roberts up at SAC (St. Andrew’s College) in Aurora. I’m actually originally from Aurora.
Lambert: Ha! No way. Yeah, I’ve actually been here for four weeks now. I was here for a couple of weeks before the combine, went down to Buffalo, and then came back. And I’m staying here until the draft and then just going to the draft from here.
Wheeler: You staying here in an apartment or what’s your setup?
Lambert: I’m living with a family here. It has been good.
Wheeler: Cool. Well before we dive in here then, what’s it been like working with Gary? I know he’s got quite the setup going at SAC.
Lambert: It has been great, honestly. This is my first summer and they do everything at a high level and all of the players that train here just speaks to how good they are at what they do and how good their training program, nutrition, and rest side of things is.
All of the different kinds of movements has been really eye-opening for me. But even bigger than that, even just the nutrition and knowing how much you need to eat to get bigger, and how to best rest, it has been very good for me. I actually eat breakfast at home and then they provide me with one-to-two meals a day. And it’s some good food.
And it’s not a long summer for me to be able to train because after the draft I’ll hopefully be going to prospects camp and then to U20 camp in Finland, so I wanted to take all the time I could to just train.
Wheeler: How’d you find the combine? It’s one thing to practice for the testing and prepare for the interviews and do all of that beforehand but then when it’s nonstop, morning ’til night for a whole week, I’d imagine there’s a lot of pressure associated with it. Some guys have told me in the past they actually find it really stressful. Did you find the process overwhelming at all?
Lambert: No, not really honestly. I think I just went into every interview one at a time. I had a lot of interviews. I had 26. But I just went in there and was myself, told my story, and talked about hockey. I love talking about hockey and I love playing the game so it was pretty easy for me to go in there and talk about hockey and allow them to get to know me as a person — and being myself.
Obviously, it got to be a lot. You have eight interviews a day and the last couple of interviews you get a little tired, and there’s a lot of waiting around too, but overall it was really nice and it was really fun to get to meet some of the other prospects and meet most of the NHL teams. I had some very good talks. I’ve done some Zoom calls after too.
Wheeler: With a kid like you, who has been in the limelight for a long, long time — I mean, people have been talking about you for years — do you think that plays against you in some ways, where teams begin to look for things after being familiar with you for so long to pick apart, versus the shiny new toy, the new player that burst onto the scene in their draft year? How do you think teams’ familiarity with you impacted this process for you?
Lambert: I don’t know about teams but I think overall with people, when you’ve been touted as one of the top guys for a long time, they start to try to almost shoot you down or look at the negative things in the game instead of the positive things. So I think that’s in a way hurt me on the public side, but I believe teams don’t look at it that way and they just look at your game. So it won’t hurt me in the draft but it might have hurt me in the public eye a little bit.
Wheeler: Is it harder when people in the public eye also don’t always know everything that’s going on? Not everyone knows that you were injured at the World Junior Summer Showcase, and then you started this season with an injury, and an illness, and missed training camp and part of the preseason.