Brody Lamb was sitting in the living room of his family’s house, just outside of Byron, on Saturday afternoon, watching the live feed of the 2021 NHL Draft. His parents, Jeff and Melissa, were there, too, as were close to a dozen of his Dodge County boys hockey teammates.
Then Brody’s phone buzzed with a text message from one of his teammates with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers.
Lamb wasn’t sure if he should believe the message or not. After all, he hadn’t yet received a phone call confirming that he had been drafted. Then, just seconds later, his name flashed up on his TV screen: Round 4, Pick No. 8, by the New York Rangers.
“We live out in the country and our wifi can be spotty,” Jeff Lamb said with a laugh. “We were halfway panicking that we were going to have to go out and bang on the box.”
Instead of panic, there were high-fives and hugs, dozens more text messages, and a congratulatory phone call from Rangers’ Director of Player Development Jed Ortmeyer. New York had just made Brody the first-ever NHL Draft pick from the Dodge County program.
Dodge County head coach Nick Worden heard the news as he was driving with his family to northern Minnesota for a vacation. Based on conversations he had with NHL scouts during the high school season, Worden said he thought the Rangers, as well as Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Winnipeg might be the best bets to select the 6-foot, 165-pound Lamb, a forward who is still just 17. He’ll turn 18 on Aug. 30.
“I was probably getting (calls from) five or six (NHL) teams a week during our season and for two months after the season, and frequent calls from four or five teams who were really interested,” Worden said. “The scouts all loved his skill level and they realized how young he is. I talked a lot to them that Brody’s just a different creature. I’ve had the opportunity to be around a lot of hockey players in my life, and I haven’t met too many kids like him.”
Lamb, who will be a high school senior this fall, will play junior hockey for Green Bay of the USHL in the 2021-22 season. He is committed to play Division I college hockey at the University of Minnesota, though his arrival date in Minneapolis is not yet certain.
Lamb was named the Minnesota Associated Press Boys Hockey Player of the Year as a junior, for the 2020-21 season, after he led the state in goals scored (52) and points (87).
Lamb likely cemented that honor with his performance at the Class A state tournament, when he led Dodge County to the state championship game, where it fell to Gentry Academy. Lamb finished the three-game state tournament run with 10 goals, including an eye-popping six goals in a 7-3 state quarterfinals victory against Hermantown. He added a hat trick in a 4-1 semifinals win against Little Falls, and he scored the Wildcats’ lone goal in the state title game loss to powerful Gentry Academy.
“He’s only 17, hasn’t really fully come into his body yet,” Worden said. “His upside is tremendous. That’s the most exciting part. His hockey IQ is high, that’s a hard thing to teach. It’s something he has and has worked hard to improve.”
In two high school seasons, Lamb recorded 101 goals and 58 assists, for 159 points. He helped the Wildcats go 19-4-1 in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, leading them to their first ever Section 1A championship and first-ever state tournament appearance.
Lamb scored at least one goal in 23 of Dodge County’s 24 games. He had 16 multi-goal games, including seven hat tricks. His six goals in the state-tournament opener against Hermantown were his season high, and he had a five-goal game at St. Cloud Cathedral during the regular season.
The 2021 EliteProspects.com NHL Draft Guide offered this scouting report on Lamb:
“The core of Lamb’s effectiveness is his shooting ability and passing skill. He explodes through his shot, transferring his weight over the puck before rolling his wrists through the release. Although he looks to shoot more than pass, he’s an efficient playmaker who finds teammates on the weak side, draws in pressure, and uses hook and slip passes to connect.”
Another Lamb drafted
Jeff Lamb said everyone gathered at their house Saturday were unsure as to when Brody’s name might get called.
“We had been told by Brody’s advisor, and had a pretty good indication, that several teams were very interested,” Jeff Lamb said. “Brody had talked to probably 20-24 teams, and we were expecting that he was going to get drafted in the later rounds. We were told anywhere between the third and fifth rounds at one point. It could’ve easily been the sixth or seventh.
“You just never know. It’s the first time we’ve been through this. We were hopeful, but weren’t really expecting anything.”
While Brody became the first-ever Dodge County player to be drafted, he also became the second member of his immediate family to be drafted. Jeff Lamb was selected in the 1986 NHL Supplemental Draft (which was held during the season) by the Pittsburgh Penguins, which was a much different experience than what his son had on Saturday afternoon.
“I was in college at the time, I slipped through the underage draft,” Jeff Lamb said. “I don’t think anyone knew who I was when I was 18. I was a late bloomer, came together with my game in my early 20s. I was a junior in college when they had this supplement draft — they only had it for a few years.
“We’d heard rumblings about the (supplemental) draft and it was the first year they’d had it. I came off the ice from practice one day and my coach (at Denver University), Ralph Backstrom, told me ‘hey, you just got drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins.’”
A fun, time-consuming process
Brody Lamb, his coaches and parents had conversations with scouts or personnel directors from nearly 75 percent of the teams in the NHL leading up to the draft.
Among the conversations Jeff Lamb had in the months prior to Saturday were talks with Rangers head European scout Nick Bobrov and the team’s Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark, who had coached Jeff during his days as a player for the Maine Mariners of the American Hockey League in the late 1980s.
In other words, it wasn’t a complete surprise that the Rangers made the move to draft Brody before others could.
“I had talked to Nick Bobrov about a month and a half ago … and he was really high on Brody. He told me they’d like to get him if they could,” Jeff Lamb said. “Gordie, I hadn’t talked to him in 30 years, but he called one day (last spring) when Melissa and I were driving to Green Bay. We talked to him for 45 minutes and he had a lot of good things to say, too.
“We had a good feeling about New York, but you never know. It’s not totally a surprise, but some teams talked to Brody a lot more.”
Much like the college recruiting process, Jeff Lamb said Brody enjoyed the process of talking with NHL teams in advance of the draft, though it became time consuming at times. The process in some cases included lengthy interviews with various members of teams’ front offices, as well as psychological testing.
“Some of those psychological tests would take an hour or more,” Jeff said. “He’d have to answer questions like ‘would you rather be a cat or a dog, and why?’ And there were a lot of character questions about what he’s like in school and what he’s like off the ice.
“It was very fun, very time-consuming, but Brody didn’t complain.”
Worden said he is equally happy for Lamb’s teammates, his classmates who’ll be seniors for Dodge County this winter and who were right there with Lamb through PeeWees and a Bantam state tournament.
“I’m excited for our program,” Worden said. “I don’t care what it does for me as a coach, if anything. I’m just excited for the program and all of his buddies, those 10-12 kids who were at his house today with him. All those kids who are going to be seniors this year and were on that Bantam team and who grew up with Brody.
“They deserve to enjoy this as much as Brody is. They’ve pushed him along and encouraged him. Today is for all those guys, too.”