By now, you've heard likely heard of Brad Lambert. If it's not for his play, it's because, yes, he's a Finnish teenager named Brad Lambert.
That's what happens when your dad, Ross, comes from Saskatchewan and his mother hails from Finland. Lambert comes from a hockey family, with a number of uncles and cousins playing pro hockey around the world, so the influence has been heavy on a young 18-year-old Brad.
And if all works out, he'll be one of the first names selected at the 2022 NHL draft. For a few years, it looked like a given for the Lahti, FIN. native. He was apart of the "Three-Headed Monster" along with Shane Wright and Matthew Savoie that looked well above the rest before the pandemic.
But as Wright and Savoie's 2020-21 seasons were stunted due to restrictions in North America limiting opportunities, Lambert got to play a full season with JYP in the top Finnish Liiga. He had some bright moments -- especially internationally with Finland's U-18 and U-20 teams -- and finished with 15 points in 46 games in domestic action. While the offensive numbers weren't anything special, he was the only U-18 forward to play in more than five games in the top pro league in the country.
Unfortunately, the "next step" in his game people were expecting as a sophomore never really clicked in the early days of the season. Lambert flew to Alberta with just six points in 24 games, despite playing 14 minutes a night or more for most of the season.
It's not that he hasn't played well, but that other prospects have played better.
But the World Junior Championship is a fresh start for Lambert. He had two assists in Finland's 3-1 win over Germany and was named the top player in the game after truly living up to the billing. Lambert has the experience of playing in the 2021 tournament to draw from, something that's extremely rare for players entering their first year of NHL draft eligibility. As a late 2003-born player, he's too young to have gone in the 2021 draft, which ultimately helped shape him as an early favorite for 2022.
"He's kind of fierce, especially with the puck," Finnish coach Antti Pennanen said after the win against Germany. "We all know that he's a gifted and talented player and today, he was so good. It was nice to watch."
It's a small sample size, but he had an overall strong game against the United States in the pre-tournament game, too. It's early, but Lambert is playing like we've seen him play at various international tournaments, showcasing his smarts when setting somebody up on a high-speed play or picking tough angles with shots from any angle.
Performances like that are good for confidence, especially leading into the big battle against Canada on Dec. 31 that will likely decide who wins Group A. Most prospects will tell you they don't pay attention to public draft rankings. But they're kids. They're curious. Teenage hockey players love to know what people think of them, whether they admit it or not. And there have been more than enough detractors taking digs at Lambert for less than stellar results in his pro career.
But the fact of the matter is, he's playing pro as a teenager, something very few players can do effectively at his age. Lambert has a good level of maturity and the skillset is definitely there. It's all about putting it together on a consistent basis. Lambert is typically the fastest player on the ice and looks so smooth when moving around the big European ice with the puck, handling it in ways many players his age simply cannot. Making sure he's consistent is the next challenge, but he's the best prospect the Finns have had in years and that's saying something.
Lambert's been working hard on taking his game to a more consistent level, and he's happy with what he's been able to improve on since he recorded four points at the World Junior Championship as a double-underager last year.
"I'd like to say my strength, just 1-on-1 battles and stuff like that," Lambert said about what he has improved on the most over the past year. "I'm playing wing right now but I can take faceoffs and have been pretty good on faceoffs this year."
Lambert still has a good shot at going in the top 10, and definitely should. His talent warrants it. It's hard to be consistent in a league that young players rarely get good opportunities in, and it's still hard to adjust when those chances do come -- just ask New York Islanders prospect Aatu Raty, who went from being the top prospect for 2021 to a second-round pick within a year. A lot can happen in a player's development, but there's always good risk-reward for a player that once was viewed quite highly before falling down for one reason or another.
Lambert will be leaned on heavily to be one of Finland's top players all tournament long. If his previous national team experiences shed any light, he's capable of doing that as long as the coaching staff believes in him. Again, it's still early, but you have to think the team is thrilled with what he has accomplished so far.