He's the youngest player on Team Finland and will be one of the youngest players in the entire world junior tournament - but Brad Lambert's skills have already made him a regular in the Liiga, Finland's top circuit. Now he's getting his first crack at the world juniors and the center/right winger is excited to be getting such an early chance.
"It's obviously an unbelievable feeling, it means a lot to me," he said. "The guys who have played at my age before, they're super-good guys. I've been watching the world juniors since I was a little kid and now getting to play at 16 is a huge honor."
That's right: Lambert is still just 16 years old. Thanks to his December 2003 birthday, he won't be eligible for the NHL draft until 2022, where he forms an early triumvirate of phenoms alongside Canadians Shane Wright and Matt Savoie.
As for the name - well, Brad Lambert isn't a typical Finnish moniker and there's a story behind that. Lambert's mom is Finnish, while his dad is Canadian. She was a flight attendant, he was a pro hockey player. Ross Lambert had played for the WHL's Saskatoon Blades (and Princeton University, back when you could do both) before a couple years in the AHL and an extensive career in Europe, almost entirely in the U.K. Brad's uncle is New York Islanders assistant coach Lane Lambert. Needless to say, having a father who played the game at the pro level has been a benefit for Brad.
"It's been huge, ever since I went out on the backyard rink with him," Lambert said. "I definitely wouldn't be where I am right now without him. He gives me good advice after games and I watch video with him."
As for Brad's upbringing, the family spent his early years in Finland (where he was born) and Saskatoon. He spent grade school in Finland before spending one year (Grade 6) in Saskatchewan before returning to Europe. Naturally, he speaks both English and Finnish fluently.
"Yeah, it's actually kinda funny," he said. "Because when I'm in Finland it's like I'm a Canadian kid and when I'm in Canada, I'm a Finnish kid."
Lambert played his early hockey in his hometown Lahti Pelicans system before moving over to Helsinki's HIFK last year. That's where he made his Liiga debut with a four-game stint, while also posting an impressive 38 points in 42 games for HIFK's under-20 squad. This season, he's with a new organization, JYP Jyvaskyla.
"They were giving younger players a chance for bigger roles and more ice time," Lambert said. "And if I wasn't ready for that level, they had a good (second-tier) Mestis team close by and a good junior team."
As it turns out, Lambert hasn't needed the lower ranks. He has played all 18 of his games this season for JYP's top team, registering seven points - only three behind the team leader. His teammates include Columbus Blue Jackets goalie prospect Veini Vehvilainen and NHL draft picks such as Anttoni Honka and Patrik Puistola (both Carolina).
"At first there was an adjustment but I've been getting going in the past month - I had five points in eight games," Lambert said. "I've been contributing more, getting used to the speed and the physicality. It's going better and better."
A big fan of NHLers such as Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Barzal and Connor McDavid, Lambert appreciates how those stars use their speed to drive play. Quickness and high-end skill just so happen to be Lambert's calling cards and while he knows he needs to get stronger, he wants to make sure he does so in a way that doesn't sacrifice his speed or skill.
As for Finland's world junior hopes, the plan remains tried-and-true for the nation of upstarts.
"It's about sticking together and playing as a team," Lambert said. "Playing hard and outworking the other teams."
Finland has won gold in three of the past seven tournaments, tying Canada for tops in that time span, so the program knows how to get it done. Lambert may be the youngest player on the team, but his offensive abilities make him one to watch - now, and definitely in the future.