If you haven't been exposed to the star-caliber forward that is Brad Lambert, you're about to be in for a real treat.
First, you've probably noticed his name isn't one you'd typically find in Finland. One of the top prospects for the 2022 draft, Lambert technically has Canadian citizenship. His father, Ross, is from the Great White North. He had a pro career of his own, mostly playing in the United Kingdom. Ross is married to a Finnish woman, so despite having a Canadian-sounding name, Brad uses his Finnish citizenship in hockey events. Lambert's mother is Finnish, and he only played a year of youth hockey in Canada, so while he's a dual citizen, Lambert has chosen to represent Finland in international events for the time being.
So, why is this kid so good? He's like watching a Nathan MacKinnon clone: Lambert is a dynamic two-way forward with incredible top-end speed, and it's rare that someone manages to take the puck off him during a rush. With 18 points in 19 Finnish U-20 games, Lambert's 0.95 points-per-game average is better than Patrik Laine's (0.93), Anton Lundell's (0.91), Jesperi Kotkaniemi's (0.88) and even that of the projected No. 1 pick in 2021, Aatu Raty, in the same league at the same age. Lambert is putting these numbers up despite being the youngest player in the league.
Lambert enters the tournament as one of the most prominent 2022 draft prospects and even features in our top 100 21-and-under list in our upcoming Prospects Unlimited issue. For the first time ever, hockey fans will get to witness Lambert challenge Matthew Savoie (Canada White) and Shane Wright (Canada Black) – the latter of whom earned exceptional status into the OHL – in international play at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge, an eight-team tournament taking place in Swift Current, Saskatchewan and Medicine Hat, Alberta from Nov. 2-9. All three players are being touted as game-changers, and now we get to see what they can all do against one another.
European teams typically have an advantage at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge due to each team having a U-16 team that plays 10-15 games the previous year to help build chemistry. Canada splits its talent into three teams, while the United States bring their U-17 national team development program roster that competes throughout the season – although the country came dead last in 2o18. The tournament used to be dominated by Canada Ontario (before the localization of Canada's teams was dropped in 2014 to help balance the talent), but the past four tournaments have been won by four different teams: Russia (2018), USA (2017), Sweden (2016) and Canada White (2015).
In part one of the tournament preview, we took a look at the top players from the four different European teams, including many top 2021 and 2022 draft prospects:
Samu Salminen, LW (Finland)
Only one U-17 forward has more points than Salminen (15) in the Finnish U-20 league, and that's Lambert (18). Talented, quick and rugged, Salminen is a smart player who doesn't waste his strides and does a good job of making sure he's in the right spot for a pass. He doesn't have the top-end speed that makes Lambert so good, but Salminen is as good at putting pucks in the net as it gets. He'll definitely get selected higher than his brother Saku, who went to Tampa Bay in the seventh round in 2013 (184th overall).
Samu Tuomaala, RW (Finland)
Not to be confused with the other Samu, Tuomaala will help round up what's considered one of the top first lines in the tournament in Lambert, Salminen and Tuomaala. Tuomaala finished second to Salminen (22) in scoring with the U-16 team last year, with Tuomaala's 19 points in 11 games making him one of the more dangerous forwards in the age group during international play. A high-energy winger, Tuomaala will dazzle fans with his wrist shot release that looks like something you'd expect out of a 20-year-old. Assuming he can improve his play away from the puck, Tuomaala is an early candidate to go in the top five of the 2021 draft and the U-17s will be a great chance for him to show what he's capable of.
Fabian Lysell, LW (Sweden)
The Lysell hype train is in full force this season after the speedy winger posted 11 goals and 25 points in just nine games with Frolunda's U-18 outfit. It's a small sample size, but Lysell's 2.78 points-per-game average is second to Viktor Arvidsson's 2.82 from 2009-10 among U-17 players, beating out 2020 star prospect Alex Holtz's 2.65 from 2017-18. A dynamic winger with great speed, Lysell is known for his electric stickhandling and ability to take over a shift whenever it calls for it. He'll be a candidate for the top-scorers title next week.
Isak Rosen, LW (Sweden)
Already one of the more promising wingers for the 2021 draft despite his small 5-foot-10, 154-pound stature, Rosen sits first among U-17 forwards with 18 points in 16 games in the Swedish U-20 league. Statistically, he wasn't anything special with the Swedish U-16 team last year with five points in six games, but early viewings this year suggest he's on the all-out attack and is shooting more than he used to. Noted star forward prospect Simon Robertsson may have more hype, but Rosen is simply outperforming Robertsson in the same league this season.
Simon Forsmark, D (Sweden)
He's not eligible until the 2021 draft, but it'll be hard to stop talking about Forsmark when the time comes. Few kids his age have the two-way skill that Forsmark has, as evidenced by his eight points in five games with the Swedish U-16 team last year, with his 1.60 PPG ranking first among all defensemen in U-16 action. Last season, Forsmark joined Carolina Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho and Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Adam Boqvist, among others, as a notable MVP winner at the prestigious youth TV-Pucken tournament, an event pitting 24 Swedish districts together that gets airtime on Swedish TV. This is his first chance to show what he's made of with the Swedish U-17 team before potentially getting a shot with the U-18 team later in the season.
Nikita Chibrikov, F (Russia)
For a small guy at 5-foot-10 and 161 pounds, it's crazy to see just how on-the-edge Chibrikov likes to play. He had 100 penalty minutes in just 21 Russian U-16 league games (and 54 points to boot) and had 59 in 16 games with the U-16 national team. He has adjusted well to the MHL this year with four points through 10 contests, and after finishing third on the Russian U-16 team last year, the fast-moving bulldozer will be integral to the nation's hopes and dreams in Canada.
Prokhor Poltapov, F (Russia)
With 14 points in 13 games, Poltapov was one of Russia's top players on the U-16 national team last season, and that endorsement should carry over to the U-17 squad. Poltapov has just one assist in six MHL games, but he's been underused in Moskva and is just looking for his big break. That could come following the U-17s, where Poltapov, a slick-skating forward with fast hands, will shine on Russia's top line.
Tomas Suchanek, G (Czech Republic)
Suchanek is going to be a busy man for the Czech Republic, who isn't expected to factor into the medal race. He's been solid through five U-17 contests this year, posting a .930 save percentage and a 1.74 goals-against average. His highlight performance came at the U-17 Five Nations tournament in August, handing the Americans their only loss of the tournament with a 6-3 effort. He'll be busy in Canada as he looks to give the Czechs a fighting chance.
Martin Rysavy, F (Czech Republic)
Standing tall at 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds, Rysavy is a natural power forward. He's the hottest goal scorer with the Czech U-17 team this season with five goals and seven points in seven games to lead the team. Rysavy's 10 points in 13 games puts him third among U-17 scoring in the Czech DHL Cup (U-20) league scoring race. If this season alone is any indication, he'll be an important part of the team's scoring hopes.
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