Brad Lambert Q&A: NHL Draft prospect on his Finnish home, his speed, what's next, and more
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.
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.
Lambert: Newmarket. I’ve been training here with Gary Roberts and his team since I came back from the combine.
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.
Lambert: Yeah, it’s impossible for people to know what’s actually going on behind the scenes but that’s fine. I thought even though I didn’t produce the way I wanted to this year that I got a lot out of the season. And I’m still totally confident that going forward I can produce. I think I’ve shown that I can produce against my own age group at the world juniors and the under-20s and I think I’ve produced at every stage I’ve played in throughout the years when I’ve been given the opportunity to use my skill, speed and creativity. I know I can produce. I’m very confident in that. So I’m not too worried about any of that stuff. I’m just really looking forward to playing next season. And I’m looking forward to getting this draft process and this whole thing kind of finished. It’ll be a really cool experience and then I get to see what the team that drafts me thinks and get it going next year, so I’m really excited to do that.
Wheeler: Where does the speed come from? It just seems so important nowadays and I’ve had scouts talk about you as “best-in-draft” in it. Have you always naturally had that or is it something you’ve just worked at it?
Lambert: It’s a combination. You need to have naturally speed to be super fast but I’ve also worked really hard it doing power skating and now this is my first summer really going hard at it off the ice and lifting a lot. So I actually think there’s still a lot more there and I can get a lot faster. But it’s something that has been a gift and I’ve also worked for. I’ve done it with my dad ever since I was little, doing power skating drills. I always liked doing skating work and did a lot of it, and I’ve gotten a lot better at it over the years. But also my stride is just good naturally too.
Wheeler: Where’s home for you in the offseason? Is it Lahti?
Lambert: Yeah, Lahti’s always been home. But I’ve also always considered Saskatoon home as well. Half my family’s from there and half’s from Lahti, so before I started going to school full-time in Finland, we lived back and forth and I travelled a lot and it was 50/50 in both places. So I kind of consider both my home.
Wheeler: I was lurking your Instagram as I was doing some prep for this and I stumbled across a video of you stickhandling on what looked like a bunch of plastic shooting ramps stitched together with a bunch of nets in the grass off in the distance to shoot at. Is that in your backyard back home? That looked like quite the operation.
Lambert: It’s actually about a five-minute drive from my house where I played my minor hockey outside the rink that I grew up playing at in Lahti. It’s a pretty cool setup they’ve got going there. You can just go there whenever and you take your own pucks and just shoot and stickhandle. It was a good place to have. I’ve spent a lot of time there.
Wheeler: Off the ice, what does Brad Lambert do on an off day to wind down? What keeps you busy and centred outside of hockey?
Lambert: We do a lot of stuff with our teammates, whether it’s going to play a round of golf, or tennis, or paddle, or shoot the basketball around, or kick the soccer ball around, or go go-karting or inside surfing, I spend a lot of time with my teammates.
Wheeler: Anything you’re really good at? Anything you’d brag about?
Lambert: (laughs) This might sound a little cocky but I feel like I’m good at ’em all.
Lambert: (laughing still) Maybe I’ve just got a lot of confidence but I think compared to my teammates I’m pretty good.
Wheeler: Did you play any sports other than hockey growing up?
Lambert: I played soccer for a year and actually that’s a sport I’d consider I’m not great at. My friends can beat me in that. But I just wanted to stick with hockey. Hockey was what I loved to do and I knew from an early age that that’s what I wanted to do and I’ve been lucky enough do it until now and I’m hoping to do it for a lot more years to come.
Wheeler: I know you’ve played both centre and the wing. Do you have a preference?
Lambert: No. I think I can play both. I think that’s an advantage to me, being able to play both wherever the coach sees it better. Centre obviously you have more freedom and you can go to different places and impact the game a little more. And as a winger, you don’t have to battle as much down low and you can maybe jump on offence a little quicker. So I think both of them have their strengths and I can play both of them. I’m honestly not too sure which one I like more.
Wheeler: How do you feel in the faceoff circle?
Lambert: It’s something I need to improve on, especially against men. Against my own age group at the world juniors or U18s I’ve always felt pretty good and I think I win the majority of my draws. But against men, they’re so much stronger and bigger and I need to just keep working on my strength.
Wheeler: What language do you guys speak at home?
Lambert: We speak English when my dad’s around and then when I’m talking to my mom I just talk in Finnish and then my dad will be like “What are you guys talkin’ about?” (laughs)
Lambert: Uhm, yeah … (laughs) He can understand some of it but I wouldn’t brag about it.
Wheeler: Who’s the best ringette player in the family? I understand you’ve got quite the ringette background on your mom’s side (Lambert’s aunt, Eija, played).
Lambert: Yeah, my mom’s sister (Eija) won a world championship bronze medal in it.
It’s pretty cool. My dad’s side played a lot of hockey and to have an ice sport on my mom’s side. I think that has been good for me. We have a very competitive family. We did it in school a couple of times but I never got into it though (laughs).
Wheeler: You’re probably tied of answering questions about family at this point because I know whenever kids have family connections they get those questions nonstop, so I won’t ask you about Lane or the New York Islanders (Lambert laughs) but are you close with Jimmy?
Lambert: Yeah, we’re very close. It’s been too bad the last couple of years because I haven’t been able to go to Saskatoon to visit him or any of my family but I’m really looking forward to seeing him again and training with him. Growing up, it was always mini sticks in my grandma’s basement, or golfing in the park. We were really close and still are, and still text.
Wheeler: I know Saskatoon’s got your rights in the CHL. Have you thought at all about the WHL as a path? You’re not signed in Liiga for next year, right?
Lambert: No, I’m not signed anywhere. I thought about going to the WHL last summer but I thought that there was some things that I wanted to work on in my game on the defensive side just being more responsible, playing with men and getting stronger. And I thought I was going to get a lot further playing with men in those things that I need to get better at than I will playing against juniors. So that’s the reason I decided to stay in Finland this year.
But for next year, I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it at all. I’ll see what happens at the draft and then everything will play out after that.
Wheeler: How much are you looking forward to getting back out to Edmonton for the world juniors? I know it was heartbreaking when I had to cancel my hotel and book my flights home, so I can only imagine what it was like for you guys.
Lambert: Oof. Yeah, it was very upsetting. And back then we didn’t know that they were going to rearrange it for this summer. So it was very heartbreaking for the whole team. But especially I felt really bad for the 2002s that weren’t going to get another opportunity. It was very tough. At first it felt really unreal. Like you couldn’t believe it was happening. But then we got onto the flight and we were actually going home and I was like “Oh man, it’s over …”
It was very tough. We had a great group of guys there so it was too bad.
Wheeler: I always like to finish with this: Is there anything you think people should know about you that they don’t?
I’m a very competitive guy and I don’t like to lose in anything. It can get pretty ugly sometimes when I’m playing with my friends in something and I lose in anything. I get pretty pissed off. That’s one of the biggest things that has got me this far. Some people may see it as a bad thing, getting too emotional, but I think it’s one of the reasons I’m here. I always want to be the best at whatever I do. So I think that’s the big thing.
Wheeler: Well on that, good luck with this next chapter here. I’ll see you in Montreal and I’ll see you I’m sure in Edmonton for the world juniors, assuming it doesn’t get cancelled again.
Lambert: Yeah, for sure. Thanks for reaching out, Scott.