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Robin Lehner emerging as an important piece for Vegas Golden Knights

Robin Lehner, Vegas Golden Knights
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner is the epitome of a journeyman. Across 12 NHL seasons, he’s played for five different franchises. One constant during his career is the love fans have for him. Lehner creates special bonds wherever he goes, connecting with multiple fanbases in different markets because of his fun personality and his vulnerable admissions of struggles with addiction and mental health.

After arriving in Las Vegas three years ago, Lehner formed one of the best NHL goaltending duos alongside Marc-Andre Fleury. The two dominated the league together as Fleury won the Vezina Trophy and they combined to win the William Jennings Trophy.

However, the Golden Knights were forced to make a decision this offseason. Faced with rostering two extensive goalies, Las Vegas needed to break up the duo. This resulted in Fleury being shipped off to the Chicago Blackhawks, leaving Lehner in line to take the starting position for a Stanley Cup contender.

Lehner faced a daunting task. While he had been effective in Vegas during the years prior, he never shouldered a full workload. But in his first year as the primary goalie for the Golden Knights, he’s stealing them games and is improving rapidly throughout the season.

Lehner’s Journey to Las Vegas

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Vegas Golden Knights
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Some NHL prospects experience quickly. That’s not Robin Lehner’s story. He played in the AHL for extended stretches, winning a Calder Cup, bouncing around from city to city looking for a home. Drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the second round of the 2009 NHL Draft, Lehner spent a few seasons there before moving to Buffalo.

The Buffalo Sabres gave Lehner his first chance to be a number one goalie. Despite getting the best opportunity of his career to that point, it was tough for Lehner to carve out a real role on a team that was going up in flames. Having to play for two dysfunctional franchises to start his career put Lehner at a disadvantage. However, everything changed after moving to Long Island to play with the New York Islanders.

  • Robin Lehner stats (Buffalo Sabres): 42-61, 2.77 GAA, .916 SV%

Lehner found the first true home of his NHL career in New York, creating a special bond with the fans. To this day, he still has a tattoo with the outline of Long Island on the side of his neck.

Finally, Lehner has arrived in the desert through a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs where he never played a game. Through three years in Las Vegas, Lehner has managed to compile a 34-16-3 record, among the best in the league during that time.

  • Robin Lehner contract: $5 million (2021-’22), $6.5 million (2022-’23), $6 million (2023-’23), $4.5 million (2024-’25)

The Panda Blossoms into a Number One Goalie

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Vegas Golden Knights
Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Robin “The Panda” Lehner never had a reputation as a great starter around the league. But the NHL is seeing his potential this season. While he had a strong 2016-’17 season with the Sabres (23-26-8, 2.68 GAA, .920 SV%) it happened on a bad team. Other than that, Lehner’s NHL career has mostly consisted of filling in the backup role.

  • Robin Lehner stats (2021-’22): 18-12-1, 2.79 GAA, .909% SV, 1 shutout

Being the starting goalie for a contending team isn’t easy, especially when the team in front of you hasn’t been healthy all season. The Golden Knights have dealt with injuries to nearly every important player and that’s forced Lehner to step up to the plate. The Golden Knights rank 24th in the league in expected goals allowed at 5-on-5.

While Lehner hasn’t been perfect, he has quelled the Golden Knights worries that their goaltending situation would fall apart without Fleury. Just the fact that there hasn’t been an overwhelming wave of criticism towards the Fleury trade is proof that Lehner has been holding things down.

A New Home

It’s been a long road for Robin Lehner to Las Vegas but he seems to have found a home, at least for now. Lehner is also extremely aware of how aggressive the Golden Knights’ front office is in their goal to make the Stanley Cup.

“They want to win every year and they will do whatever they can to make the team better. If you don’t perform, you are out, end of story.”

Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner on the Cam and Strick podcast

If he keeps playing like this, Lehner will have nothing to worry about. Over the last ten games, Lehner ranks in the top ten for both goals-against average (GAA) and high danger save percentage (HDSV%) at 5-on-5. He’s single-handily won the Golden Knights a few games and is starting to get recognized for his performance. For the first time in his career, he’s being relied upon by a contending team and he may be one of the most crucial players for the first-place Golden Knights.