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January 23, 2022

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Goaltender Lehner doesn’t predict his future with Golden Knights

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Steve Marcus

Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner (90) warms up before an NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Robin Lehner didn’t think he was coming to the Golden Knights. He didn’t think he was he was going to leave the Chicago Blackhawks at all. But as the trade deadline inched nearer without a contract extension, he saw his time there coming to an end.

That was a disappointment for the new Vegas goalie.

Lehner was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2018, but he was unable to secure a long-term deal when he was a free agent. He settled on a shorter deal and will be a free agent again this summer.

The last few weeks weighed on him until he was traded to the Golden Knights on Monday.

Lehner sat at his locker at City National Arena today surrounded by media and talked for about 10 minutes, covering a wide range of topics.

He spoke about how the Golden Knights system differs from ones he’s played in previously, about Vegas’ next opponent in the Sabres and his looming status as an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Here’s part of what he had to say. Some answers have been edited for clarity.

How difficult or easy is it for a goalie to come into a new system and be ready to go?

It’s a tough question because it’s such a personalized thing. I think some people, it’s easy; some people, it’s difficult. I don’t know for me yet. I have not been traded in-season before, so I’ve always had the chance from the get-go, camp, kind of get into it.

I would say I’m a reading goalie, so it’s going to take me a bit to get comfortable, because that’s what I think most of my strength is — reading what’s coming next. The good thing here is it’s incredibly structured, so I’m optimistic it should take a shorter time.

Is it similar to what you’ve seen in front of you before?

It is a bit different. The closest comparison would be Long Island but not as extreme. It’s such a dynamic team, dynamic system here. They protect similarly as Long Island does in certain aspects. I think the penalty kill, which is one of the things I usually thrive in, is quite different than I’ve been used to before. That’s the only thing I’m kind of a little bit — not worried — but I think that could take some time.

Is it just study? Is it video?

It’s just different. Here, they front a lot more shots. The other teams I’ve played on, they always let me focus on the shot, especially from the half walls. Now, it’s just not seeing the puck that much. It should be fine; it’s just going to take a little bit of a transition time.

How tough was it on your family knowing that you had to get up and move?

I think it’s tough on everybody. It’s business. I think it’s tough for everyone involved, but it makes for some excitement. I didn’t know Vegas was in the mix for me, and it was a pleasant surprise. My wife is excited; she likes the heat. It’s going to be good, but relocation — and we have kids and stuff — it’s a little bit to do.

How much is this offseason, potentially being a free agent, weighing on your mind?

To be honest, that’s not weighing on my mind. There were other things weighing on my mind. I haven’t played to my potential the last few weeks. There’s a few things that kind of played into that.

I went to Chicago to help them out and got promises of getting a fair chance to play. I came there with a good mindset, fit into the team. I didn’t play much in the beginning, or middle, beginning of the season, even if I played well, had a good camp.

Eventually, I took over and I won — I think I won like nine out of 10, 12 out of 15 — and we walked up one point out of a playoff spot. Then, all of the sudden, I found myself on the bench for no reason. That was tough. Plus, negotiations totally died out.

At the end of the day, we’re players playing for our lives, playing for contracts, and I felt for two years I’ve played really well and I still can’t get something done, and I’m playing well, and I can’t play.

It hits your motivation part a little bit. I’ve got to do a better job of kind of letting that go away, but I’m in a new situation here, and I’m just excited to be part of a playoff push and help out any way I can.

If you go tomorrow, is that a game you circle on your calendar? Do you get up for Buffalo?

I get up for anything. I’m excited to be here. This is different. I’m here to see how it goes. Like a little bit of insurance, I would say. This team has a great goaltender, and I’m just going to try and stay ready and play as far as we can, and then we’ll see what happens this summer.

It was tougher in Chicago, as I thought there was a future there and I did everything to have a future there and I still couldn’t get a future there. So, in the end, the last couple weeks were tough mentally to kind of find the motivation needed.

Can I ask you about (Sabres captain Jack) Eichel? Just his development, what you’ve seen, and the step forward he’s taken this year.

It’s impressive. Since day one, Eichel came in, you have seen his potential, and he has really taken a step to grow into one of the best players in the league. When he’s on, I think he’s up there with anyone — with (Connor) McDavid and (David) Pastrnak, all those guys, whoever you want to call out. So that’s good on him. He’s a tremendous player and he’s improved a lot and it’s fun to see.

Have you thought about what it would be like to skate out there for your first game?

No, I’ve been in the league now for a while. I just approach it as any other game. As I said, there’s been a lot of turbulence here the last couple of weeks for me and, obviously, the last three, four days. I’m just trying to land and get my head back, see the puck well and try to help this team keep winning.

You talked about having hope there was a future in Chicago. Do you hope there’s a future here?

I don’t hope anymore. We’ll see what happens. We’ll see what happens this summer.

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