While the Kraken sent their top prospect to the OHL for more development, the Winnipeg Jets sent a top prospect to Seattle. The Seattle Thunderbirds announced Monday that Jets first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, Brad Lambert, had been assigned to play in Seattle for the remainder of the Western Hockey League season.
“We’re just excited to have a guy like Brad join our group,” Thunderbirds general manager Bil La Forge said. “We think he’s gonna fit in really well and adds more depth to our lineup.”
Drafted with the 30th pick overall, Lambert, 19, had just completed his third stint at the World Junior Championship with his native Finland. He scored one goal in five games at this year’s tournament. After an impressive training camp, the Jets sent him to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League where he’s played in 14 games and has two goals and an assist.
“He’s an elite skater, he’s an offensive player,” La Forge said. “He’s been playing with men for a long time. So, we want him to come, join a strong group, enjoy some success, and have some fun.”
Unable to get consistent playing time as a rookie in pro hockey, the Jets have decided that more time in juniors is the best route for the 6-foot-1, 175-pound forward.
The Thunderbirds acquired the rights to Lambert in late June in a trade with the Saskatoon Blades who had selected Lambert in the CHL Import Draft. The Blades received four WHL Draft picks including a conditional 2023 first-round and 2024 second-round pick.
“We talked to Saskatoon really quickly. It was the morning before the day of the draft and found that it was a possibility,” La Forge said. “Brad’s a guy that we’ve watched for years, before the import draft, and had discussions with and felt like we could be a good fit for him if Winnipeg did decide to send him back. But in all honesty, I was hoping for the best for him and that he would end up where they wanted him to, and I think that coming to a good team in a great place to play is what was exciting for them.”
Those conditional picks are now real picks, but the Thunderbirds are more than willing to pay.
Lambert joins a Thunderbirds team looking to make a second consecutive playoff run to the league championship. Seattle reached the league finals last season, losing in six games to the Edmonton Oil Kings. This season they are ranked No. 1 in the entire Canadian Hockey League and have started 28-5-1-1. They are in first place of the U.S. Division.
Seattle leads the entire league in goals scored and is now adding another offensive weapon. Where he’ll play in the lineup is still to be determined.
“That’s up to the coaches, and I’m sure it’ll take probably a couple of weeks to find the right chemistry and the right mix with our forward group,” La Forge said. “We’re fortunate that we’re so deep right now… definitely we see him as a top-line player, but we feel that we have three top lines too so it’ll be wherever he has chemistry and feels comfortable and can help the team the most.”
This move will give the Thunderbirds four NHL first-round picks on the roster, and Lambert will join defensemen Kevin Korchinski and Nolan Allan, as well as forward Reid Schaefer.
Lambert comes to Seattle days after it pulled off a separate deal to land Chicago Blackhawks second-round pick in 2021 Colton Dach from the Kelowna Rockets. With the WHL Trade Deadline coming on Tuesday, the arms race has been heating up.
The Kamloops Blazers and Everett Silvertips swung a massive deal that included four first-round picks going to Everett for a package that included Anaheim Ducks prospect Olen Zellweger. Along with Lambert, the Jets also reassigned forward Chaz Lucius to the Portland Winterhawks. Portland and Seattle are locked in a battle for the top spot in the U.S. Division and appear destined for a second straight playoff battle after the two bitter rivals played to seven games in the second round last spring.
Seattle plays at the Brandon Wheat Kings Tuesday and ironically will be in Winnipeg to play the ICE on Wednesday. La Forge thinks it is likely Lambert will debut with the Thunderbirds on Saturday when the team plays at the Prince Albert Raiders. Lambert’s first home game will be at the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent on Jan. 20 against the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
With all the moves that Seattle has made, the pressure to win has never been higher.
“I think that our group has high expectations,” La Forge said. “Prior to the moves, it’s just me trying to give them the tools to make sure they have everything they need… there’s a lot of good teams and there’s only one banner so we’re gonna fight to be the last one standing.”