When Robin Lehner first became a member of the Buffalo Sabres, it was fair to have questions. How good is he? How good can he be? And is he the one to lead this franchise to the promised land?
It wasn’t very many minutes into his first start as a Sabre when those questions were left unanswered, due to a high-ankle sprain that would keep Lehner out of the line up until Jan. 15.
Behind the scenes, I would see Robin around the rink during that time, doing what he could to be around his teammates, making an effort to get to know them, as well getting himself ready to play as soon as nature and healing would allow.
When I share the aforementioned facts with those who know Robin much better than I do, I am told "That’s Robin" followed by "You are going to love this guy."
Now it is easy to like a lot of the players you meet along the way within the sport of hockey. Some players make it much easier to get to know them, and to be honest, when I first met Robin, I was not sure he was going to be one of those guys.
At the Sabres' annual golf tournament back in September, I had the fortune of having Robin join our foursome and play a few holes. I welcomed him to Buffalo, shared with him that I was also a new kid on the block, just two years into my hopefully long stay with the organization. We exchanged small talk about his travel to Buffalo and getting settled and also about his love of exotic pets. But beyond that, there was not much back and forth.
Robin told me, “I am kind of a quiet guy.”
I think he was trying to not let expectations get too high as to how far he was ready to let strangers into his circle of who he was/is. Now that I have learned a little bit more about the man, the goalie, he was likely saving the more in-depth conversations and lengthier banter for where – and with whom – it mattered most: in the locker room, on the ice with his teammates.
As the season has moved along, and as Robin has had his ups and downs since being back in the lineup, he has certainly let it be known that he is here to be a winner, a leader, a good teammate.
With every start Lehner seems to blend more and more into the role he was brought to Buffalo to fill, that of a No. 1 goaltender.
Rob Ray and I have spoken often during the games I have been calling this month of February about how wins were not the most important thing for Lehner right now.
Seems odd to say that about any athlete who I can guarantee you wants to win.
But when you step back and think of where Robin has been and where he wants to lead the Sabres to, perhaps his initial goals were to find a consistency and a rhythm in his game, along with building trust amongst his teammates.
It would seem to me Lehner is well on his way to accomplishing those first goals. This is a young man who doesn’t mind talking to people on a gameday. He wants to be considered part of “the team” and not someone whose mental preparation is fragile if asked about the night’s task ahead.
From my vantage point, I have seen more moments of what Lehner can be. To me, he does look like a player who can take the reins in Buffalo and be that next No. 1 goaltender the city has been waiting for.