The good news with Carson Lambos? He could be anything at this point. Development curves for defensemen can take a while to take shape and become predictive. Add in disruptions to his development because of COVID and injuries, and it becomes even murkier for Lambos.
Despite all this, though, Lambos did well for himself last season. He scored 10 goals and 47 points in 51 WHL games and finished 11th in points and points-per-game among WHL defensemen. This means Lambos still finds himself with some pretty good comparables, per Hockey Prospecting.
Tom Poti is Lambos’ most similar player to date. Poti is an 800-game player who scored double-digit goals three times and had a pair of 40-point seasons. He also played big minutes on the early Alex Ovechkin Era Washington Capitals. Poti was a legit Top-4 defenseman. Not a bad outcome at all!
Jared Spurgeon also makes an appearance. You may know him because he’s the best defenseman in Minnesota Wild history. Dennis Wideman, who had 815 pretty good games himself, is also on the list. If you look at Poti’s comparables, you’ll see Francois Beauchemin, a lockdown defenseman who owns 903 career games and a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks.
You will also find Cam Barker, a former No. 3 overall pick who went on to be the worst trade acquisition in Wild history.
The bad news with Lambos? He could be anything at this point. And that includes Barker. So, where does that leave Minnesota?
Lambos definitely has talent going for him. Scouts circled Lambos as a top pick before his draft year — perhaps even in the top-5. “The Winnipeg Ice defender is the complete package with size, skating ability, and two-way awareness,” McKeen’s Scouting wrote in their 2020 Draft Guide, previewing the 2021 Class. “He also shows well as a physical defender and projects as an all-situations building block.”
That’s high praise, and McKeen’s was hardly the only outlet gushing about Lambos at the time. FC Hockey called him “an extremely dynamic defender” before endlessly praising every aspect of his skating.
“His balance on his edges makes him extremely unpredictable, allowing him to dance out of trouble at either end of the rink,” they said. “Equally as impressive, his skating looks effortless… His crafty footwork extends to his puck-handling, where he can outmaneuver opponents and deke his way around him.” You can see that in the following highlight.
Those scouting reports are now two-plus years old, but you must know this to understand Lambos and his place in the organization. He’s a classic Judd Brackett Special — take a bet on a special talent that falls. An injury-filled draft year saw him tumble to No. 26 overall.
That’s where the magic happens for Brackett and the Wild. As they showed with Jesper Wallstedt and Danila Yurov, if an opportunity for a Top-10 talent is in that range, they’ll take that player every time.
The rest is up to Lambos. One lousy play got him squeezed out of Team Canada’s lineup at the World Juniors, which is unfortunate. But he’s got amazing opportunities right around the corner. He’ll be a leader on the Ice once again. He’ll also be a year older and further from his injury woes. Lambos is ready to take a big step forward.
There’s also a chance to redeem his World Junior performance coming up in a few short months. Lambos is eligible to play in the 2023 World Junior Championships. Team Canada only returns two other defensemen from this year’s tournament: Olen Zellweger and Ethan Del Mastro. Granted, Zellweger’s a star, and Del Mastro took Lambos’ spot, but the minutes are there for Lambos to earn.
Focusing on old scouting reports, injuries, and World Junior disappointments makes it seem like Lambos is falling off the table as a prospect. So, too, perhaps does his No. 8 ranking on our Top-10 list. But he’s still an excellent prospect. Remember, a ton of Top-4 defensemen have looked much like he looks from a production standpoint.
Lambos is a strong, if not a stronger, prospect as he was when the Wild drafted him. His drop from our No. 7 ranking last season is simply a reflection of the Wild’s system getting better.
Corey Pronman had praise for Lambos as recently as two weeks ago. He ranked him No. 7 among Under-23 Wild players (sixth among our list-eligible prospects) on Aug. 25. “He has legit puck-moving skills and projects to be a secondary offensive contributor in the NHL,” he wrote. He also notes that he put up his offensive numbers despite not being on the top power play.
Continued development will ensure he stays atop the Wild’s depth chart on the left defense. If he blossoms next year, Minnesota will undoubtedly be able to use his skills. The Wild are deep on defensemen that skate well, but very few bring Lambos’s combination of size (6’1″) and talent.
But even if Lambos doesn’t differentiate himself from prospects like Ryan O’Rourke and Daemon Hunt, Minnesota is still in a great position. A former first-round pick who oozes talent is an excellent centerpiece for a trade down the road.
Look at what the Los Angeles Kings did this offseason, trading a top defense prospect and a pick for Kevin Fiala. Former second-round defenseman Emil Heineman and a pick landed two-plus years of Tyler Toffoli, a super-cheap winger. Adam Boqvist, No. 8 overall in 2018, became the centerpiece for the Chicago Blackhawks’ Seth Jones trade.
The central truth of Lambos? He could be anything to the Wild. Is he a future Top-4 defenseman? Perhaps! Is he a future Top-4 defenseman who lands a player on a friendly contract that helps them compete in the cap crunch years? He could be!
There are ways this pick might not work out for Minnesota. But for every way things could go wrong, there are two potential paths for Lambos to show that betting on high-end talent is always the best draft strategy.