Jake Muzzin was a steady and physical presence on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ blue line all last season. And if his Game 6 injury wasn’t the final nail in the coffin, it was one of them as the Montreal Canadiens stunned the Leafs by completing their first-round series comeback in Game 7.
Would Muzzin have been the difference? There’s no telling, but the 32-year-old veteran was undoubtedly a vital part of the Leafs’ D-corps.
This is the type of role that Carson Lambos hopes to provide in the NHL one day and it's a role Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, believes the Winnipeg product is well-suited to play.
“(He’s) just that solidifying factor on the ice,” said Marr.
“He plays to win. He is competitive. I wouldn't describe him as having the same aggressiveness (as Muzzin), but he can play just as assertively. In a 1-on-1 battle, he's pretty darn good.”
Here’s everything you need to know about the two-way defender, and how he measures up in a draft loaded with top-end blue-liners:
Team: Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
Age: 18 (born Jan. 14, 2003)
From: Winnipeg, Man.
Weight: 197 pounds
‘Impressive’ in Finland
With leagues shelved in Canada due to the pandemic, Lambos was among the major-junior players to seek opportunities overseas.
The Ice loaned him to JYP, where he put up three points in two games with their under-18 squad, 11 points in 13 contests with the U20s and even laced them up for a pair of appearances in the Liiga.
“He went and played over in the junior league in Finland and, for the most part, stood out there — he was impressive,” said Marr.
“And he played a big role, played in all situations there.”
When the WHL season resumed with the Ice playing in the Regina bubble, Lambos returned to Canada. But after just two games, he was forced to head back to Winnipeg to undergo an undisclosed medical procedure (Marr said he’s 100 per cent recovered).
That cut short Lambos’ season, taking away any chance at following up on his strong first campaign in the WHL when he led all rookie defencemen with 32 points in 57 games and robbing him of an opportunity to play for Canada at the world under-18 championship.
‘Complete two-way package’
While Lambos has proven to be a point-producer in the WHL and overseas, he isn’t expected to have that ability in the NHL, at least not at the same level.
Instead, he’s projected to be a valuable contributor in both ends of the ice, a defenceman who can move the puck and make that important first pass out of the zone, but who is also very tough to beat 1-on-1 and can be relied on to shut down opposing teams’ top players.
“(He’s) not a high-end speed skater, but strong and powerful. (He has) good strength and balance and he's just the complete two-way package that you're looking for,” said Marr.
“He can play on a top-pair D and on special teams, but he's going to be backing up the skilled part of that pairing. He's got the puck skills and the smarts to play with good players, which is key.”
— Joel Henderson (@dathockeydoe) October 28, 2020
Sound reminiscent of a defender who spent half a decade making a name for himself next to Drew Doughty in L.A.?
Despite his top-two D potential, Lambos hasn't been able to crack the vaunted group of blue-liners atop the 2021 NHL Draft, which includes the likes of consensus No. 1 Owen Power and likely top-10 picks Luke Hughes, Brandt Clarke and Simon Edvinsson.
Most mock drafts have Lambos in the 10-20 range and Central Scouting listed him as its 11th-best North American skater in its final rankings.
It’s his offensive upside, or the limits to it, says Marr, that separates him from that top tier of defencemen.
“He would tend to be a little lower on the A-class, the first-round group, only because of the fact that this is not a guy you're going to depend on to put up numbers, but he can play and contribute with those that can,” he said.
“And a lot of times, that just gives some of these other guys a little bit more confidence knowing that they're out there playing alongside him.”
When asked how he compares to Jake Sanderson, who entered the 2020 NHL Draft with questions about his offensive ceiling before getting selected fifth by the Ottawa Senators, Marr said Lambos doesn’t have the same kind of franchise-changing potential.
“Jake Sanderson, we felt he was someone you could help build a team around, he would be that anchor on the defence. And Lambos isn't far off that, but we wouldn't describe as someone that you could build a team around,” he said.
“(Lambos is) going to be one of those factors that you need to to help you win, to help you move forward and just help the other players who are on the ice at the same time as him. He can just kind of settle the play down, take control of things so that when the train wheels are coming off the tracks he can help right the ship.”