All things considered, it was great first step.
Carson Lambos was chosen 26th overall by the Minnesota Wild in the first round of Friday's NHL Draft but you couldn't help wonder what might have been.
A year ago, the promising blue-liner had been touted a possible top-five pick but a rocky 2020-21 season, beginning with a four-month stay with JYP's U20 and Liiga squads in Finland and concluding with a two-game stint with the Winnipeg Ice in the WHL's East Division hub, squashed those hopes.
A medical condition — Lambos has so far decided not to discuss the details publicly but has admitted the ailment did impact his play — forced a premature end to the 18-year-old Winnipegger's season. He also missed out on a spot with Canada's team and likely a top pairing role at the U18 worlds while waiting for a corrective procedure that finally came in late April.
A now healthy Lambos preferred to contemplate the promise of the future rather than dwell on the opportunity missed. He was in the mood to celebrate.
"It was just kind of going pick by pick and it gets later and later and more and more tension but I'm just so excited to know the result came and the work starts now," said Carson after accepting congratulations from a gathering of family members at his River Heights home. "It was definitely a tense tense couple hours for sure and a bit of a sigh of relief after getting picked."
Prior to Winnipeg's 18th overall pick, there was an nervous pause in the room — Carson's grandfather John Lambos was a big advocate for the Jets to land his grandson. Then, the entire room exhaled when Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff announced the selection of U.S. National Development Team centre Chaz Lucius.
Carson's name remained at the top of ESPN's best players available board for several more picks and tension was building.
"You know, even if it did go to Saturday, I think we all knew it doesn't really make a difference in the long run," said Carson's older brother Jonny, a defenceman with the WHL's Everett Silvertips. "It's obviously nice for Carson to have this moment tonight and nice for our family but at the end of the day, no matter where he went, I have faith in Carson that everything he does after the draft is going to help him have a successful career."
Wild management should consider themselves fortunate to have landed a defenceman of Lambos' pedigree. The majority of his resume was built during a superb 16-year-old season in which he scored eight goals and 32 points in 57 games.
All 32 NHL teams had access to his medical information but Lambos had little advance notice Minnesota was interested in choosing him.
"It's hard to say," said Carson. "I had a couple calls with them but as far as levels of interest goes, I don't think the team's like to show much, just based on not wanting to show their cards and trades and things like that so I'd say their level interest seemed the same as every other team. I couldn't be more happy."
Already physically mature as a WHL rookie, Lambos immediately earned first-pairing minutes from head coach James Patrick while also gobbling up regular duty on the Ice's power play and penalty-killing units. He was expected to build on that in 2020-21.
It was a very proud night for Carson's firefighter mom and realtor dad.
"It's kind of a hybrid of humble and proud together," said Simone Lambos, Carson's mom. "It was obviously an overwhelming experience as a parent watching your kid realize his dreams."
Steve Lambos exhibited a cool head throughout but he did entertain the possibility that Carson would have to wait until Saturday, the second day of the draft.
"He was going to get drafted today or tomorrow but just not knowing and playing the waiting game and nervousness and I think everybody in the room felt it," said Steve Lambos. "(Carson getting drafted Saturday) crosses your mind but you stay positive. It was a nerve-racking day."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.