Perhaps more than any other Senators prospect, which says something because Ottawa’s system is widely heralded as one of the best in the NHL, Robin Lehner is the one who I most want to see fulfill his potential.
Credit the various hairstyles. Praise his birthright and Frolunda pedigree. Laud him for being named the MVP of the 2011 Calder Cup playoffs, following Carey Price (2007), Patrick Roy (1986), and Gordie Bell (1943) in winning that honour as a teenage goaltender. Maybe it is the way that he refers to himself in the third person on Twitter. Or perhaps it is just a testament to his position, and the attrition rate goaltending prospects in Ottawa have succumbed to.
In their modern twenty-season history, the Senators have drafted sixteen goaltenders (albeit, Francois Brassard and Chris Driedger – were drafted in 2012). Of those, only five have gone on to play in more than one NHL game. One more, Simon Lajeunesse is credited with a game for 24 minutes of play. Still, those minutes separate Lajeunesse from the Bryan Masotta, Petter Ronnquist, Jeff Glass, Ryan Daniels, Patrick Charbonneau, Toby Kvalevog, and Mathieu Chouinards of the world.
It's a dismal record. Beyond even developing drafted talent, Craig Anderson needs a scant 29 more wins to be second all-time in career Senator victories.
Getting back to Lehner however, with 640 minutes of NHL TOI in the bank, only these Ottawa drafted tenders have more:
– Brian Elliott (180 GP, 84-63-0, .909 SV%, 2.60 GAA, 18 SO)
– Ray Emery (207 GP, 109-62-0, .907 SV%, 2.69 GAA, 11 SO)
– Jani Hurme (76 GP, 29-25-11, .906 SV%, 2.61 GAA, 6 SO)
– Martin Prusek (57 GP, 31-12-4, .909, 2.36 GAA, 3 SO)
Emery was supposed to be the goaltender of the future. Characterized by his moxie and combustible disposition – a real Ron Hextall type; Rayzor’s willingness to chuck knucks with all comers was well known to fans even before he donned a Senators sweater. In short order he became the only goaltender to take the franchise to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, but just one season into the three-year extension that he inked in the summer of 2007, the distractions stemming from his off-ice behaviour and ineffectual play led to GM Bryan Murray buying out the remainder of his deal.
Now with Lehner holding the "Goaltender Of The Future" moniker, the hope is he can be the first to reach his ceiling. Despite the high of backstopping the B-Sens to the Calder Cup, his first two professional seasons have been marred by nagging injuries and bouts of inconsistency. Although he has often provided the right quotes to the media, there have certainly been allusions made to his ‘alleged’ attitude problems and maturity. Case in point – Lehner’s infamous post-game outburst following Sweden’s loss to Russia at the 2010 World Junior Championship:
For any NHL goaltender, you are expected to be a different kind of cat. Damian Rhodes’ superstition for staying in hotels and dying his hair for home games is inexplicable. But for Lehner, he has had difficulty striking that delicate balance between being perceived as confident versus being viewed as overly confident to the point of arrogance. Conservative hockey mores don't always accept an out-sized personality, especially in younger players.
I can certainly empathize with a player who has watched a number of his Calder Cup winning teammates be promoted and remain in the NHL, I'd feel slighted too with a playoff MVP trophy in hand. But at the same time, I can appreciate the organization wanting to avoid rushing and risking the development of one of its best young assets. Rather than overwhelming Lehner and seeing his value deteriorate, they have preferred to acquire a legitimate number one starter in Craig Anderson and another young goaltender in Ben Bishop to provide a push…
Since then, his attendance at a development camp he wasn't obligated to attend generated positive praise from the organization.
"He's very calm, very prepared, he's lost weight, he's leaner, quicker, (he has) better agility," said Randy Lee, the team's director of player development. "(There's a) real big improvement. He's really taken it seriously."
“I’ve grown up a little bit,” said Lehner. “I was a certain weight when we won the Calder Cup. I was young and a little naive. I came in a little heavy and I didn’t know better. I worked out very hard this summer. This year, I’m going to try to be a better player on and off the ice.”
Early days but it seems this "push" may be paying dividends.