By Chris Langrill
The Idaho Statesman
BOISE, Idaho – It is a tough call deciding which scenario is more incredible: the fact that Steelheads forward John Lammers is tied for the team lead in goals scored after having played less than half the season with Idaho, or the fact that he played half of a season in Europe without scoring even one goal.
Both scenarios are true, however, as the young playmaker continues his second professional season.
Lammers is under an AHL/NHL contract with the Dallas Stars, and members of the organization encouraged the forward to play in the Finnish Elite League early in the season. He played 23 games and had four assists.
That’s quite a contrast to the player Steelheads fans watched score 19 points in 22 games in last season’s playoffs. He scored two goals in the 4-1 series-clinching win over Dayton as the Steelheads claimed the Kelly Cup.
But Lammers, who turned 22 in January, doesn’t look back on his time in Europe with disdain.
“It was a good experience, it was a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s good hockey over there, but it’s just a little different. It’s not North American hockey.”
Still, it is surprising to think that someone with his skill could go 23 games without scoring a goal.
“I guess I just had a hard time adapting to the game over there,” he said. “I played mostly a third-line role.”
That’s certainly not been the case since he returned to the Steelheads on Jan. 18.
“He’s one of those guys that you have to find the right role for him,” Steelheads coach Derek Laxdal said. “You can’t just say, ‘Hey you’re going to be a third-line checking guy.’ He’s not a third-line checking guy. You’ve got to get him the puck and you’ve got to get him in shooting position.”
And that’s exactly what the Steelheads have done.
Lammers has notched 27 goals in 32 games with Idaho this season. He is tied on that list with Taggart Desmet, and Desmet has played 67 games. Dayton’s Matt Beaudoin, the top goal scorer in the ECHL, has taken 60 games to score 36 goals.
Lammers’ torrid pace hasn’t gone unnoticed. He was named February’s ECHL player of the month after tallying his first hat trick as a pro Feb. 8 in a 3-2 win over Alaska. He got a second hat trick March 1 against Bakersfield.
“He’s just a natural goal scorer,” said Steelheads captain Marty Flichel, who plays on the same line with Lammers and forward Lance Galbraith. “He can skate, he shoots the puck very well, obviously, and he’s smart. He scores a lot of goals just by being in the right place at the right time.”
“I wish we had him all year,” he said. “Who knows how many goals he would have at this point. He’s a great player and he’s got a great mind for the game.” Lammers has one year remaining on his contract with the Stars, and he hopes to get a chance to prove himself before that contract expires. He began the season in the Iowa Stars’ training camp, but his efforts there were derailed.
“He had a shoulder injury that set him back a little,” Laxdal said. “That didn’t help his training camp in Iowa, but he’s come back here and he’s been a model athlete. He’s riding the bike after practice, he’s training and working hard and doing the little things that will make him that much of a better player next year.”
Lammers’ teammates say it is just a matter of time before he is proving himself at the next level.
“The sky’s the limit for him, there’s no doubt he will advance,” Galbraith said. “If there’s one guy I can say is going to play in the NHL (it’s Lammers). I think the NHL is where he is going to be, it’s just a matter of how long it’s going to take him. If you can score, and he’s got that knack, then you can score goals in any league.”
In the meantime, Lammers makes sure not to get ahead of himself.
“My time will come,” he said. “When that time comes I will have to prove myself. But right now, I think wherever you play you have to work as hard as you can and I just want to help any team I’m on win.”
In fact, his eyes light up when he thinks about the possibility of another postseason run with the Steelheads.
“I’m really starting to get excited about the playoffs,” he said. “Last year was unbelievable and I think I grew a lot as a player and a person. I love my time in Boise. I’m having fun down here, so I can’t complain.”