Lambos adjusting well on Finnish loan
This isn’t the draft year Carson Lambos was expecting.
In a normal season, the 2021 NHL Draft-eligible prospect would be guarding the blue line for the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice. He’d have over two months of regular-season games and we likely would have seen him for two games in the Canada-Russia Series.
But just like the 2019-20 season ended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020-21 season has been impacted by the virus. Due to the numbers and restrictions in the various Canadian provinces, the WHL has yet to drop the puck on its season. The teams, and especially its players, are currently playing a waiting game to see when – or if – a WHL season will happen.
This has been a long process so far, starting with the initial announcement from the WHL back in August that the season’s start date would be postponed until December. It’s since been pushed until January, and it’s looking like it will be delayed further.
“It was a little bit disheartening at times and hard to see,” said Lambos. “But it’s what has to be done to prioritize safety. It is what it is. I just made sure to keep training through it all. Whenever it starts, I’m going to be ready to go.”
This delay has resulted in a number of prospects from both the WHL and OHL looking to get ice time elsewhere via loans, even if that means travelling over 6,500 kilometers from home.
Lambos, agent prioritize development
Lambos has done just that, travelling from his hometown Winnipeg, Manitoba to Jyväskylä, Finland, where he’s playing for JYP in the U20 SM-sarja and the U18 SM-sarja.
“With the league being postponed, I wanted to have the opportunity to play games and develop my game,” said the defenseman. “Wherever the chance may be. And when JYP offered a spot to me, it was awesome. It’s been nothing but great here, experiencing a different country, a different culture, and being able to play hockey. It’s been great.”
His agent, Mark MacKay, who had a very impressive playing career of his own in Germany, notes that the development piece was a key component of the loan to JYP coming to fruition.
“Our main goal was just to continue his development,” said MacKay. “Unfortunately, a lot of the guys in the Canadian Hockey League are in a tough spot because there’s just not a lot of opportunity for these kids. For Carson, it was no more than wanting to keep playing, wanting to keep developing, and to keep proving himself. That was his main goal and our main objective was to get him over and get him playing.”
With MacKay and his team being successful in getting Lambos a loan, the next step was to settle into the new league, new team, and new country. It’s often seen the other way around, with European and Russian prospects coming to North America to play, and we’ve seen that the adjustment period can take some time.
Lambos adjusting to new league quickly
For Lambos, FCHockey’s No. 3-ranked prospect in our preliminary rankings, the adjustment period has been shorter than expected – much shorter. The mobile defender has taken to the ice and made an immediate impact on the roster.
“I think I’ve really found my game and I’m starting to play how I feel like I should be able to play,” said Lambos. “It took a couple of games I think to adjust to the big ice and new teammates, and some guys don’t speak English, so a bit of a challenge in certain things. But once you can kind of spend a couple of weeks, it’s a great group of guys. The coaches have really set it out so I can transition into the team and the league nicely.”
In seven games with the U20 squad, Lambos has collected two goals, three assists, and five points in seven games, while averaging over 20 minutes of ice time a game. He’s added three assists in two U18 games.
“We’re very happy (with how he’s been playing),” said MacKay. “Obviously, it’s a big adjustment. It’s a completely different game. I think for a young player like Carson, just the challenge of being able to adapt, being able to play, and adding the different skills is going to benefit him in the future.”
Justin Froese, the Western Canadian head scout at FCHockey, watched Lambos play last season in the WHL and has been keeping a close eye on him in Finland.
“Going back to seeing Lambos even as a 15-year-old call-up, I’ve been impressed with how comprehensive his game is from top to bottom,” said Froese. “He virtually does everything you would want out of a defender and there’s no real flaw to how he plays the game. His game is centered around his mobility which allows him to control the tempo of transitions and pare down offensive options for opponents. He’s dynamic in motion and never is never seemingly stagnant or flat-footed.”
Lambos adjusting to new country, language
While there’s been an adjustment on the ice, however short, the change of pace off the ice may have created a bigger impact on the six-foot-one, 201-pound defender.
The biggest obstacle? The language barrier.
“Every little thing,” started Lambos on how the language barrier has impacted him “From the obvious one, when the coach is talking and things like that. Or you go to a restaurant and everyone around you is talking and you have no idea what anyone is saying. It takes a little bit of time to get used to but after a couple of weeks, I’ve gotten used to it.”
While not understanding the coach could pose some problems, the defenseman has had some help in that area.
“Valtteri Koskela, we were D partners,” laughed Lambos. “He kind of translates things for me when the coach is speaking Finnish and he can speak the English to me. Valtteri’s my translator.”
He continues, “(The team) can all speak English, just some better than others but everyone tries their best. It’s a little bit different for me when you’re playing a game and things happen so fast. Obviously, the first thing on my teammate’s minds isn’t going to be to translate something from Finnish to English, so sometimes it’ll just sound like noise.”
On top of the language, Lambos has had to get used to the daylight in Jyväskylä – or lack thereof.
“Where I’m living, it’s a pretty Northern part of the world, so the days are really short,” said Lambos. “The sun doesn’t rise until about 9 o’clock and by 3:15-3:20, it’s pretty much pitch black. That’s been, maybe not a big adjustment but something that’s weird, going out at 3 o’clock and the sun is setting.”
2021 NHL Draft played a part in Lambos’ loan
With Lambos playing in his draft-eligible season and the rest of his hockey career largely impacted on this campaign, the 2021 NHL Draft played a role in Lambos seeking ice time elsewhere to start the season.
“(Not getting ice time in my draft-year) was a bit of a concern,” said the Winnipeg native. “Things are so uncertain right now and you just never really know. So being in my draft year, I wanted to make sure I could get some games in and develop my game and grow off of last season.”
In this draft especially, players are playing for their rank. Most drafts have one or two, maybe three, names in the first-overall conversation. The 2021 NHL Draft is wide open though, with a handful of players in the mix to take the top spot – including Lambos.
The potential of being the first-overall selection in the upcoming draft is on Lambos’ mind, but the laid-back player isn’t weighed down by it.
“It makes you realize: ‘take things really seriously’,” said the prospect. But I always have, so I think things kind of stay as they have been for me. There’s just a little more on the line this year.
“I just try to go out and play, and do my best.”