Robin Lehner is an incredibly promising goaltending prospect for the Ottawa Senators. His size, poise, confidence, mobility, and determination are all the main ingredients in the recipe for a great goaltender, and Lehner's shown that he can be one: His play in last season's Calder Cup Playoffs, when everything was on the line, was amazing. Even his game last night, posting a 32-save shutout against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins in a playoff-like game, was a terrific example of what Lehner is capable of. And despite the small sample size (just three games), his stats this year are nothing short of ridiculous: 3-0-0, 1.33 GAA, 0.954 SP.
But as good as his NHL numbers are, his AHL numbers are have been brutal. He's compiled an 8-16-1 record with the Binghamton Senators, putting up a 3.38 GAA and a .905 SP. Granted, these are regular-season stats on a troubled Binghamton squad, but they reflect the one significant concern that fans and management must have with the team's top goaltending prospect: Complacency.
Heading into this season, GM Bryan Murray and his staff challenged Lehner to head down to Binghamton, assume the mantel of top goaltender, and dominate at the AHL level before getting his shot in the NHL. He failed that challenge, and Mike McKenna stepped in as the team's top 'tender, compiling a 13-16-1 record with a 2.92 GAA and a .919 SP, all far better than Lehner's numbers.
As if that wasn't bad enough, this is the second consecutive season in which Lehner was expected to be Binghamton's top goaltender, but he failed to outplay an AHL journeyman. Last year, Barry Brust caught fire and was the reason the B-Sens made the playoffs. Lehner's AHL numbers were better last season, but they paled in comparison to Brust's. It wasn't until the playoffs came that Lehner began truly playing to his potential; as was elucidated above, that potential is incredible.
Championships are won by goaltenders who can raise their game at the right time, and Lehner has shown the capability of doing so. But in order to get to the right time, your goaltender needs to find a way to motivate himself during the doldrums of the regular season, and that is the one fault to be found with Lehner so far in his short professional career. It's also a big reason why he was sent to the AHL this season, instead of working alongside Craig Anderson in the Senators' crease. Senators management knows that Lehner has most of the tools to play in the NHL, but there's one thing he's left them looking for: Discontent. A yearning to constantly compete and prove oneself, whether in the AHL, the NHL, or any other level.
Lehner has never hid the fact that his goal is to play as a starting goaltender in the NHL. He has shown that he has the raw skill to do it. His challenge, though, is to show that he has the mental maturity necessary to play 50, 60, or even 70 good regular-season games in the NHL in order to lead his team into the playoffs.
Who knows, really; maybe Lehner is like one of those 21-year-old M.I.T. graduates who just skips through elementary school and straight to the working world. But so far, Lehner's been challenged to demonstrate that he's not going to become complacent when he gets what he wants. He's got to show that he's going to work to get it, work to keep it, and keep working. To the end.