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CONFIDENT IN HIS ABILITIES, LEHNER LOOKS AHEAD TO FULL SUMMER OF TRAINING

by Chris Ryndak / Buffalo Sabres
(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)

It won't be a summer of rest for Robin Lehner. In two weeks, he'll be able to take the cast off his right ankle and he's eager to begin working out to prepare for the 2015-16 season.

A high-ankle sprain sidelined him 27:30 into his Buffalo Sabres debut on opening night and proved to be bothersome even after he returned between the pipes in January. He had successful season-ending surgery on his right ankle on March 30 and while he'd usually go back home to Sweden for the summer, he'll spend this offseason in Buffalo.

"My training camp starts in two weeks," Lehner said Sunday. "So I'm very excited about that. It's not going to be a fun period for me, but it's for a good purpose. We're going to have a good team next season and I want to be a playoff team next season."

It's been a frustrating year for the 24-year-old goaltender. A concussion sidelined him for the final two months of the 2014-15 season and recurring symptoms hampered his ability to get a full summer's worth of work in.

Sabres general manager Tim Murray was a member of Ottawa's hockey department when the Senators drafted Lehner 46th overall in 2009. Buffalo acquired Lehner for a first-round pick before the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft in June because the organization saw in him a blossoming No. 1 goaltender who craved an opportunity to start.

After Training Camp and three appearances in the preseason, Lehner was ready to start the first game of the season on Oct. 8 for Buffalo. However, his night was cut short when he jammed his ankle and had to leave during the second period.

He finally made his return to the crease on Jan. 15 after an extensive rehab that included a short conditioning stint in the American Hockey League. Lehner appeared in 20 more NHL games and – while a small sample size – he had the best nine-game stretch of his career from Feb. 14 to March 5, going 3-3-3 with a .946 save percentage and a 1.75 goals-against average.

He finished the season 5-9-5 with a .924 save percentage, a 2.47 goals-against average and one shutout.

"He's highly competitive. Sometimes he has to hide that a little bit, but he is highly competitive. He's young. He's athletic," Murray said. "So 21 games is not enough, but in that period of time, he showed me that he has the potential to be what we need. And that's to be our hardest working player and make the saves that he's supposed to make."

However, after every game and every practice since his return, Lehner would experience swelling in his foot. As time when on, the swelling and pain got worse and worse and he began to lose power in his right leg.

Lehner played his last game of the season on March 16, a 3-2 overtime loss to Montreal. On March 30, the team announced that he had undergone surgery and would be unavailable to play for the remainder of the season.

"I couldn't really move the way I wanted to. I couldn't really move from right to left as I wanted to and it really started impacting my game," he said. "It's not fair to the team. It's not fair to me to play at a level where I can't play my best."

His .924 save percentage ranked fourth-best among goalies with at least 20 games played.

"I went in and showed what I can do – with complications, with a high-ankle sprain. I'm very confident in myself," he said. "I know I'm a good goalie and the best thing I can take out of this is I'm going to come out next season with no issues. I did the surgery on my foot. I'm not going to have any problems with my foot going forward.

"I just need to do the rehab through the next few months and then I've got to work out with these guys. That's why I'm staying here the whole summer."

Lehner said he has had conversations with Team Sweden about the World Cup of Hockey, which will be played in September in Toronto. Sweden has already named goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist and Jacob Markstrom to its preliminary roster and if Lehner is healthy, he's confident he'll be in the mix.

But first, he'll focus on getting back to full health and on what he can do for the Sabres in the fall.

"Going into next season, I want to have a real good year for the team's sake and for my personal sake, too. I've said it many times, I really like this city. I want to stay in this city," he said. "I want to be in this city for a long time. I want to have a good year next year. I want us to do good and I want myself to do good because I want to be here for a long time and I want to be a goalie here."

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