Carson Lambos: 2021 NHL Draft Profile: A Smooth-Skating, Minutes-Eating Defenseman

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The New Jersey Devils need defensemen. Their prospect pipeline is full of hit-or-miss prospects, and the only sure thing the Devils have had for the back end in the past five or so years has been Ty Smith, who should be a top-pairing defenseman next season. Perhaps the Devils will kill two birds with one stone picking at fourth overall, selecting a defenseman who they believe to be the “best pick available.” If not, there are some intriguing mid-to-late first round options. One of these prospects available for selection is Winnipeg native Carson Lambos.

Who is Carson Lambos?

Carson Lambos was selected by the Winnipeg Ice in the WHL Bantam Draft at second overall in 2018. Since then, he has become one of the top prospects in this Draft class, earning praise for his mature defensive ability and offensive potential. However, during the pandemic, Lambos went overseas to keep active, suiting up in two games for JYP in the Finnish Liiga as well as two U18 Finnish games and 13 U20 games. He was quite successful in his short time in Finnish juniors. However, upon his return to Regina for the resuming of WHL play, Lambos sustained a season-ending leg injury, which was only vaguely described by the Winnipeg Ice as a “medical procedure.” This seems like the exact sort of thing that can make a very good player do the Draft Night slide.

Elite Prospects

Lambos’ injury is rather unfortunate for him. He only got to play in 19 total games in the 2020-2021 season, and I would expect him to not be Drafted as high as he possibly could have been due to the dodgy report the Winnipeg Ice made about the issue. If I were a GM, the only thing I would be scared of more than an injury I know is severe would be an injury that a team will not disclose the extent of. Perhaps more details will be shared by the time of the Draft, but teams may still be in the dark about what “procedure” Lambos required after playing just two games for Winnipeg this year.

Where is Lambos Ranked?

Lambos is generally regarded as a mid-round prospect, though some writers believe he is a top pick – and some believe him to be a late-round prospect.

I think this is a fascinating spread of rankings, as establishment writers place Lambos in the middle of the first round, while other internet hockey writers vary from top five to bottom five of the first round. His average ranking, based on these (excluding NHL Central), is 15.5.

What Others Have Said About Lambos

Ben Kerr at Last Word on Sports raved about Lambos’ defensive ability, projecting him as a top or second-pairing defenseman in the NHL. Kerr notes that Lambos’ excellent skating ability in all directions allows him to “maintain good gap control defensively and to walk the line laterally in the offensive zone” while his size (Lambos is 6’1” and about 200 pounds) allows him to win puck and netfront battles. Kerr says about his defensive game:

Lambos is quick to retrieve dump ins and loose pucks and transition the puck up the ice. By limiting the amount of time he spends in the defensive end, he maximizes his defensive game…He is tough to beat in one-on-one situations, forcing attackers to the outside and into poor shooting opportunities. If the attacker has his head down, Lambos can explode into a powerful body check. He sometimes needs to be a bit more disciplined at not getting out of position to throw those big hits, but this is a minor critique. Lambos is good positionally and keeps himself between his man and the front of the net. He uses his stick and his body to cut down passing and shooting lanes.

Stylistically, Kerr compares Lambos to Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. His report on Lambos is rather glowing and makes it seem unlikely that he falls to the Devils’ second pick in the first round unless teams are scared off by his recent leg procedure.

Moving on, Steve Kourianos, who ranked Lambos in the top five, also made a glowing report on Lambos. Kourianos’ report on Lambos’ defensive ability makes me rather intrigued in him as a prospect. He writes,

Lambos is an excellent defender, one who can be assigned for a shutdown assignment against a top line or blanket the neutral and grey zones against easy entries. It is in these areas of the ice where Lambos’s physicality comes into play, as he uses his powerful leg drive and upper-body strength to eliminate puck carriers along the boards. He is a vocal on-ice communicator who shouts instruction and directs his forwards towards gaps in coverage…Lambos is an excellent penalty killer and has the endurance to withstand the full two minutes in his own end yet still provide an active stick and physical play near the net.

Given these statements, Kourianos projects Lambos as a minute-eating defeseman, which the Devils have not truly had in a long, long time. Andy Greene and Paul Martin were able to post more than 23 minutes a game in four seasons each, with Paul Martin reaching 25 minutes in 2006-07. The Devils will certainly not be able to snag Lambos in the late second round, though.

Finally, we turn to Smaht Scouting for their report on Carson Lambos. They ranked Lambos at 20 – but this scouting report is from 2020, so it does not include any improvements he might have made in Finland. Josh Tessler at Smaht Scouting, compared to Ben Kerr and Steve Kourianos, was more impressed by Lambos’ offensive game than his defensive game at the time he wrote this article.

Not only is Lambos dominant when passing or shooting the puck in the offensive zone, he also loves to work the cycle. His game is very much like Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche. Both defensemen will carry the puck up the side boards, find tight gaps and fire shots to the net. Also, with his passing ability, he can cycle up the wall and find a teammate in the slot or complete a cross ice pass when he finds a teammate with open space.

Lambos’ Video

First on the video, we have a Prospect Film Room compilation of highlights from Carson Lambos. From what I see here, Lambos has a high level of in-zone offensive ability and a willingness to skate the puck in towards the net. Even from the point, Lambos seems to prefer the wrist shot to the slap shot, which aids his accuracy.

When the video turns to his Finnish play at 2:30, I appreciate Lambos’ skating ability as shown on the power play. His agility at the blueline makes it difficult for the high man in the diamond to apply pressure, and he turns on the jets to get past the man covering him to create a goal. Lambos is capable of creating plays with both his shot and his skating, and it’s a sight to see when he combines the two.

Next up, we have a shift-by-shift video from a January U20 game in Finland.

Again, Lambos’ skating ability on the power play is a masterclass. At 2:00, he is seen on the power play, and he continually makes good decisions with the puck. However, at 2:47, the puck gets trapped in the corner and his teammates make a too-soft pass to him at the high corner of the zone. Lambos has to escape from the blueline while flat-footed with an oncoming opponent. Lambos jukes to his left, pulling the puck on the blueline away from the stick of his opponent (causing an uncalled hold) before skating around the entire zone so the power play could reset for the final 35 seconds. This reset without a clearing results in a goal late in the power play, with Lambos appearing to get a secondary assist.

At 7:15, Lambos plays an excellent position in the neutral zone against the opposing breakout, waving his defensive partner back behind a forward waiting for a stretch pass so he could position himself to intercept the pass, which he did. However, his defensive partner turns the puck over, and no offense is generated from it. At 8:05, Lambos patiently waits in a good position for the puck – not too high in the zone, and sidesteps around an oncoming forward to make a pass with his skate to a forward posted by the lower edge of the faceoff circle. On his following shift, Lambos again shows patience – but on the defensive side, waiting for an attacking forward to approach his blueline before poking the puck and taking it away for a pass to set up a counterattack.

At 12:10, Lambos is seen on the penalty kill. He seems to apply too much pressure along the boards early in the shift, attempting to throw a check at the blueline, but quickly skates back to his place in the diamond. I despise the whole penalty kill’s positioning at 12:25, as they turn from a diamond to what I could only call a 1-1-2 set-up (no, it was not a forechecking situation) with inefficient coverage of passing lanes and no pressure to the puck carrier. This leads Lambos to stop covering his man by the goaltender in order to try to block a shot that should have never happened if not for poor forward positioning. However, no harm is done, and we next see Lambos back on the power play.

Back on the penalty kill at 15:25, Lambos transitions from the middle back of a 1-3 neutral zone formation to netfront duties in the defensive zone, clearing the crease with a hard check to the back of his opponent. Then, a shot is blocked to the corner and Lambos speeds off to pressure the puck carrier, fluidly stripping the puck and passing ahead to a forward, who carried the puck below the goal line to end the penalty kill.

At 19:40, again on the penalty kill, Lambos is the last man to beat for an opponent forward, and he stands his ground in the slot and swipes the puck toward the corner. He then keeps an eye on the forward behind him, and zips to from the netfront to behind the net to break up a pass around the boards to that forward so he can clear the puck. Lambos then plays most of the final four minutes of the game, two of which were on the penalty kill. At 21:46, Lambos swipes a rebound with his backhand to prevent a goal. Despite his tiredness, Lambos maintains good position for the remainder of the penalty kill – and is only off the ice for twenty seconds before getting back on. His teammate then takes a very stupid penalty in the neutral zone, and Lambos has to serve on the penalty kill for the final 1:20 of the game, which he helps kill a minute of before a stoppage allows him to return to the bench.

My Thoughts on Lambos

In case you cannot tell from what I wrote about his shift-by-shift tape, I am extremely impressed with Carson Lambos. Aside from his injury, I cannot imagine how anyone could rank him outside the top 15. His skill, anticipation, and decision making should have him on par with the other top defensemen in the Draft, and I would not be remotely surprised if Lambos ended up being the best of them. The pandemic robbed him of another WHL season, and I think people’s attitudes toward him would be different if he were able to play more games for the men’s JYP club in the Finnish Liiga. Two games is hardly enough to make a judgement there.

While I would not select Lambos at fourth overall due to the risk from his injury, I would be happy to see the Devils trade down a few spots and select him somewhere in the 8-12 range, if Fitzgerald’s guy is already gone when the Devils are on the clock. However, I am wary of how many assets it would take to trade up from the Islanders pick to select him. However, the Flyers and Rangers pick at 13 and 15th overall, respectively, so any trade-up may be earlier than what would be ideal. If the Devils do not trade up and neither of their rivals take Lambos, the Devils should jump on it soon after. I cannot stress enough how much the team needs the type of mixed physicality, speed, and skill that Lambos would provide on the back-end. Defensively, they surely need it. If they pick Clarke or Hughes at four, Lambos would be a perfect complement to their offensive ability.

If there’s ever a Draft to fix the team’s defense for years to come, this is it – the Devils should do what is necessary to make these picks.

Your Thoughts

What do you think about Carson Lambos? What do you think of his game tape? How do you feel about what prospect writers said about him? Do you think the Devils should give up assets to select him? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.

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