Can Ryan Lomberg exceed fourth-line role with Florida Panthers?
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One thing was always certain ever since Ryan Lomberg first became a member of the Florida Panthers and that is how he always plays with compete and drive.
Working his way up from the ECHL, the undrafted forward found himself on Florida’s radar after a five-year stint in the Calgary Flames’ system.
To that point, he only played 11 NHL games while putting up around 12 goals a season in the AHL.
Standing at 5-foot-9, 187 pounds, where the fleet-footed forward really stood out was his physicality and the heart he brought along with it.
“I think the fans are going to love him,” Panthers general manager Bill Zito said the day he signed a two-year deal with the team in 2020. “He is a very fast, speedy wing who plays with an edge.”
From that day forward, Lomberg seemed to prove Zito right.
He played in 34 of Florida’s 56 games during the shortened 2021 campaign, putting up four points.
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Where he really won over the organization, however, was that same physicality and heart he showed from his time in the ECHL. Enough so that he found himself in the lineup come playoff time.
There, he thrived.
In Game 3 of Florida’s first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Lomberg blew past Victor Hedman with a burst of speed and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy on the breakaway in overtime to cut Florida’s series deficit to 2-1.
That moment solidified him in Panthers lore, but it surely was not the last of his big playoff moments.
Just under a year later, Lomberg tied up Game 6 of Florida’s first-round series against the Washington Capitals with 13:47 to go in the second period.
At that point of the game, Florida’s offense had gone cold and it was Lomberg, using his speed and will to drive the slot and pick up the loose puck that got the Panthers going again.
The Panthers went on to win the game — and their first playoff series since 1996.
“Out of everyone on our whole group, he is probably the one guy that gets everyone excited when he scores,” then-Panthers coach Andrew Brunette said.
“He brought what we were hoping we would bring. He brought energy, he brought speed, he brought tenacity on pucks, all the things that he has done for us all year. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to play earlier, but he took advantage of the opportunity.”
Lomberg found himself in and out of the lineup during the first round of the playoffs, but it was not an easy decision for Brunette to make.
During the regular season, he carved out a seemingly permanent spot for himself on the fourth line alongside Eetu Luostarinen and Patric Hornqvist, notching nine goals and 18 points in 55 games.
That line seemed inseparable all season and was a line Brunette deployed to bring some energy to the team.
“It’s huge for our team — for a coach — if you have a fourth line you can trust against anybody at any different time,” Brunette said.
“They bring different pieces, all three of them. I rely on them a lot in big moments and big times.”
After a hot scoring run in March, Lomberg did get a shot in the top six.
He had four points in his last two games heading into a matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks on March 31 and Brunette decided to give him a shot on the second line alongside Jonathan Huberdeau and Claude Giroux.
“He’s feeling it,” Brunette said. “He’s got a little mojo going, has a little shimmy shake, but we love to see him on the scoreboard. The bench gets a big kick out of it and he’s fun to watch.”
Lomberg ended up scoring another two goals in a 4-0 win against Chicago and, although shortlived, he very much contributed in a larger role.
This begs the question — can he take on that kind of role permanently?
Florida’s forward core is lacking the depth it had when it scored the most goals the league has seen since 1996.
Giroux, Huberdeau, Mason Marchment and Noel Acciari are all gone from that roster.
Their replacements — save for ex-Flames star Matthew Tkachuk — consist of players who fit a similar mold to Lomberg.
Physical players who bring energy and have primarily found success in bottom-six roles.
With Anthony Duclair also out of the lineup with a torn Achilles, one of them has to make the jump to a top-six role.
Looking at the field — a battle between the likes of Colin White, Nick Cousins and Rudolfs Balcers — Lomberg has tools that stand out.
Namely, his speed.
In the right situation, his combination of speed and tenacity could very well thrive in a bigger role.
While he has not had the track record for putting up numbers, he does possess a sneaky good shot that can be honed in that kind of role as well.
Physicality and the ability to get under the other team’s skin has been the main selling point throughout his career, but he has shown that he has the tools to prove otherwise.
Whether he puts it together or gets another chance as he did in late March remains to be seen.
But the more Lomberg is on the ice, the harder it is to play against the Panthers.
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I wouldn’t mind seeing him with Lundell and Reinhart on the third line. Hags, barky and Denensinko on top line, Tkachuk, Bennett and White on line two, then Etu centering Cousins and Horvquist as our checking line, in my opinion that is our most balanced lineup. Now our defense is a whole another story, after ekblad and foresling I’m not sure what they’re going to do,
we’re so weak on the left side it’s hard to say.