Viewed by many as one of the best prospects in the Senators system, Lehner bounced around between Ottawa and Binghamton. He sat on the bench for long periods of time up in Ottawa and had a tough time when he did get starts both at the NHL and AHL level. Then in the Calder Cup Playoffs, everything changed.
When regular season starter and fan-favourite Barry Brust struggled early in Round 1 against the Monarchs, Lehner was given a chance. With his team down 3-1 in the best of seven, Lehner played some of his best hockey and helped the BSens surge out of the first round and ultimately on to the Calder Cup Championship.
Lehner was named MVP of the playoffs and with good reason. He was the team's best player on route to the league championship, posting an impressive 2.10 GAA and a solid .939 save percentage. He made big saves when his team needed him and was a rock throughout the playoffs. Not bad for a guy who will turn 20 next week.
And now here we sit, in late July, and it is a foregone conclusion that Lehner will be spending another season in the AHL. I can't help but wonder if this is really the best scenario for Lehner.
Now I know there is a ton of evidence that suggests you have to be careful with young goaltenders and with a rebuilding Sens team, there is no reason to rush Lehner. Craig Anderson will be the starter in Ottawa this year and is going to get the bulk of the games and obviously the organization wants to avoid a situation where Lehner is on the bench watching the majority of the games.
Still, I think you could make a strong case for giving Lehner a chance at the NHL level.
As a 19 year old, and a player that plays the game with a ton of confidence, it's important that Lehner stays motivated. With a Calder Cup and playoff MVP already in his back pocket, there is a risk of Lehner becoming complacent at the AHL level. For that reason, I feel like having Lehner with the big club, facing NHL shooters in practices, working with a solid veteran in Craig Anderson and starting 20-30 games would not be such a bad thing.
Keep in mind this is a kid that has been the best goaltender in training camp the last two seasons.
I understand the caution the organization is showing with Lehner but also think it's important that his future with the club is well-communicated. He is a key part of the rebuild here in Ottawa and should be treated as such. While Alex Auld will dress as the back up on a nightly basis , the team should make every effort to get Lehner into NHL games this year.
And should Craig Anderson go down with an injury for an extended period of time, I fully expect Lehner to become the starter in Ottawa.