February 28, 2012; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson (65) tells goalie Robin Lehner (40) to pull his finger. Lehner obliged, and was not impressed. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
Robin Lehner (click here for pronunciation) is the best goaltending prospect the Senators have had in years--and maybe in the history of the modern franchise. He's big, he's athletic, he's competitive, and his martial-artist dad forged his steely resolve by launching 100-mile-per-hour pucks at him while he was still in elementary school. So he's got the makings of a starting goaltender in the NHL.
But his mercurial nature and competitive spirit have also been somewhat problematic. He's been inconsistent at best in the AHL, and has a career 25-30 record with the Binghamton Senators. Because he wants to play against the best in the world, he seems to have trouble motivating himself for the daily grind in the minor leagues. And he definitely has a hard time controlling his emotions: Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C. So he plays with an edge.
Still, Lehner can win when it matters. He showed as much in 2011, when the Binghamton Senators sneaked into the playoffs and were on the brink of elimination before Lehner stepped in and led them to the Calder Cup Championship, winning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as playoff MVP in the process. So he can win.
Lehner came to North America the year after Ottawa drafted him, backstopping a (pretty terrible) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds squad to the playoffs by putting up a 27-13-3 record in the regular season, with a 2.8 goals-against average and a 91.8 save percentage. Unfortunately, he bombed in the OHL playoffs, falling in the first round of the playoffs to Tyler Seguin's Plymouth Whalers in five games. Lehner had a 4.29 GAA and a 87.4 SP in that first round. He made his AHL debut after his playoff elimination, playing two games and winning both.
The next year he was supposed to play in Bingo full-time, but Pascal Leclaire's injury-riddled body meant that Lehner spent the season split between Ottawa and Binghamton. Lehner also spent time with the Swedish national junior team during the 2011 World Juniors, where Sweden finished fourth. He became the youngest Swedish goaltender to play in the NHL when he made his Senators debut, but was sent back to Bingo in time for the AHL playoffs. Barry Brust was the starter when he returned, but when Brust faltered in the playoffs Lehner took over and never looked back.
This past season wasn't great for Lehner. He spent most of it in Binghamton backstopping a much softer and less experienced B-Sens squad. He was battling with Mike McKenna through the season for the starter's role. Their records were about the same, but McKenna had a markedly better goals-against average (McKenna: 2.98; Lehner: 3.26) and save percentage (McKenna: 91.8; Lehner: 90.7).
Much to his chagrin, the future is later for Robin Lehner. With Craig Anderson penciled in as the Sens' starter for another three seasons and Ben Bishop on board as an older and more experienced backup for next year, Lehner seems poised once again to spend most of the 2012-13 season with the Binghamton Senators once again. But he still has plenty to learn down there, so it may be best for his development to get him plenty of ice time.
Eventually, Lehner will get a good opportunity in Ottawa, and he will have earned it. He's good already, and will only get better. Lehner has drawn comparisons to Henrik Lundqvist, but they seem to play very different styles; Lehner is much more aggressive than Lundqvist, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Questions remain about how good Robin Lehner can be, but few doubt that he will be good once he gets his chance.