Lambert thriving in starring role for Moose

Photo: Jonathan Kozub

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

By this point last season, Brad Lambert had gone from the pros back to junior hockey.

Sure, Lambert was a first-round pick by the Winnipeg Jets (30th overall in 2022), and after two seasons in Finland’s top-tier SM-liiga he began his North American career with the Manitoba Moose out of training camp.

But after 14 games and three points (two goals, one assist), Lambert was loaned to the Finnish national U-20 team for the IIHF World Junior Championship, his third time participating in the tournament. When he returned in January, the Jets assigned him to Seattle of the Western Hockey League.

It turned out to be a beneficial move for the forward, who just turned 20 this past Dec. 19. He stepped into the Seattle lineup at midseason and ended up contributing 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists) in 26 regular-season games before adding 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in 17 playoff contests to help the Thunderbirds take the WHL championship and eventually reach the Memorial Cup finals.

“It helped to get to play a lot on a great team and have success,” Lambert said of his first major junior experience. “For sure, it helped to play that role again, get big minutes, and help the team win.”

This year, however, it was time to stay with the pro game. Lambert had a strong resume and solid pedigree even before joining the Jets organization. His father, Ross, played professionally in England (as well as 100 games in the AHL); his uncle Lane had a successful playing career as well and is now head coach of the New York Islanders. Raised in Lahti, Finland, Brad came up through the Finnish minor hockey system and played 99 games in the SM-Liiga as a teenager.

That blend of a taste of the AHL followed by a chance to play with his junior-aged peers seems to have paid off for Lambert, the Moose, and, if all goes well long-term, the Jets. One thing that he learned was that he would need to build strength to fend off opponents along the boards and in the corners. That goal became a top offseason priority, especially after a long playoff run.

“[It was] kind of my first real experience of a long playoff run,” Lambert said, “and it helped, for sure. It’s a grind in junior, and it’s going to be harder in pro. You’ve been through it. You’ve won something.”

His 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) through 26 games tie him with fellow rookie forward Nikita Chibrikov for the Moose scoring lead. Those numbers also have him in a three-way tie for sixth in AHL rookie scoring.

Currently two points out of a playoff spot in the Central Division, the Moose will need Lambert to continue to produce in the second half. Beginning with a swing through eastern Canada that starts tonight at Belleville, Manitoba plays 12 of its next 16 games on the road. And despite having lost six of their last seven, the Moose do have some math in their favor, holding games in hand on every other club in the division.

Lambert missed Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Senators with what the team reported as an illness. But when he has been in the lineup, he has been able to play center, something that appeals to him. Moose head coach Mark Morrison has taken to using him on the club’s top line between Jeff Malott and Parker Ford.

“I think I’m able to use my speed through the neutral zone and use my vision to make plays through the middle. I think that’s the biggest thing that’s different from playing wing,” Lambert explained.

The Jets have been an organization heavy on a draft-and-development model since the day they arrived in Winnipeg back in 2011. Getting players like Lambert a chance to taste Calder Cup Playoff action would be a major success.

But there is a lot of work that must be done first.

“We need to string together some games here,” Lambert said.