Kicking off our top 20 list is Ryan Lomberg, a fast skating, face punching, penalty killing, effective bottom sixer conveniently wrapped in a 5’9″ package.
Lomberg’s stock has been steadily creeping upwards after a surprisingly strong performance at the annual Young Stars tournament in Penticton, but he’s been a player to watch ever since joining the Adirondack Thunder in 2015-16. With his first full season in the AHL, he left enough of an impression to earn an NHL contract, and the 20th spot on our countdown.
A brief history
Lomberg began his playing career in the USHL after the Muskegon Lumberjacks drafted him with the sixth overall pick in 2011, spurning the Petersborough Petes of the OHL who had drafted him the year before. He immediately stepped up for the Lumberjacks, leading the team in goals, total scoring, and penalty minutes, because of course.
After that, it was off to college and the University of Maine. His freshman season was a success, finishing fourth on the stat sheet with 14 points in 32 games. His sophomore season was a step backwards, making a modest improvement to 18 points but falling to seventh in team scoring.
Lomberg’s collegiate career ended prematurely due to charges of assault and disorderly conduct stemming from an off-campus incident (he pled guilty, and paid fines). Maine suspended him from the team, and he returned to the USHL, this time with the Youngstown Phantoms who now held his rights. He was immediately named the captain of the team, and finished with 43 points in 46 games.
After his second stint in the USHL, Lomberg entered the Flames organization on an AHL contract after a standout performance at development camp despite earlier plans to transfer to the University of Miami. He was assigned to the Adirondack Thunder, quickly becoming one of the organization’s best players. He finished fourth in team scoring and second in points per game among players who played more than 20 games.
This past season he stepped into a bottom six role with the Stockton Heat, and surprised many. One of the most consistent Heat regulars, Lomberg made a name for himself as one of the better energy players on the team. With the Stockton top six dominated by Flames prospects, Lomberg was on the outside looking in, but he made a case to be included with those players. Management certainly agreed, signing Lomberg to an ELC at the tail-end of the season.
Stockton Heat head coach Ryan Huska praised Lomberg’s hard work during the past year, noting it was one of the aspects of his game that earned him an NHL contract.
The one thing that we saw from him is he had a consistent impact in every game that he played for us, where he was one of our noticeable players. I guess the word that comes to mind with Ryan is “energy,” where every time we needed a bit of a boost he was usually one of the guys that would give it to us pretty consistently. Or if a line was a little bit flat, we’d put Ryan on that line and they’d seem to get themselves going pretty quickly.
Toronto Star scribe Scott Wheeler has seen a lot of AHL hockey during his career. He had a slightly more pessimistic projection for Lomberg.
Lomberg’s path in the Flames system (and before) is admirable, but it should be clear by now that Lomberg isn’t going to become more than a physical, undersized, checking winger in the AHL. While Lomberg fashioned out a little more of a scoring role towards the end of the year, there’s little in his game to suggest he has the talent to overcome the odds and become a full-time NHL player. He’ll need to take a big step this year in the AHL to change that.
What comes next?
Lomberg is a ton of fun to watch and has certainly exceeded expectations, but all things considered, it is only one okay season in the AHL.
Wheeler’s take on Lomberg above is mostly the correct one. The winger has certainly overcome obstacles – both on and off the ice – to make it where he is today, but he still is a replaceable player by production standards. Although it is likely the largest hurdle, Lomberg is still young (will turn 23 in December), so there’s time to let him grow and see if he can actually succeed against better players and if his game can become more translatable to the NHL. Ideally, he can become more than a fourth liner.
There’s no rush. The Flames have Lomberg on a two-year contract starting in 2017-18 and don’t need him to step up as a contributor for the team immediately. If he’s involved with the NHL club in any way next year, it will likely be through injury call-ups, but don’t count him out as a potential dark horse.