Carson Lambos is one of the leaders on the Winnipeg Ice, who are already four games into their season in the Western Hockey League.
But Lambos has yet to suit up for the team.
He's still at Wild training camp.
"Right now I'm focused on being here," Lambos said, "and sticking around here as long as I can."
A first-round draft pick in 2021, Lambos made his third appearance of the preseason on Tuesday night at St. Louis as the only junior player left in camp.
What has this lengthy look revealed?
That the potential for the organization's defensive prospects is legit, intrigue Lambos has helped stoke by showcasing his development after a few uneven years.
"It's not just like I'm dipping my toe in," Lambos said. "I'm trying to go all in and show them what I can do and try not to be a passenger out there. I think that's what I've done so far, and it's what I want to continue to do."
The closer Lambos has gotten to making it to the NHL, the more off-script his journey has gone.
His first season with Winnipeg was cut short by the pandemic, he had a stint in Finland, and he dealt with health issues. All this happened before he was added 26th overall by the Wild, which also wasn't a typical experience since the draft was virtual.
Last season Lambos was finally back to logging regular action, and he responded by racking up 10 goals and 37 assists in 51 games before chipping in another eight assists during Winnipeg's trek to the Eastern Conference championship. He also won gold with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship in August, skating in one game.
"Being able to get to the rhythm of the season, get to that routine, I think was really good for me," said Lambos, who signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Wild in August 2021. "In Winnipeg, we had a phenomenal team, so good to be a part of that and a winning culture, too. I definitely took some big steps last year and making a deep playoff run, that's the first time I've done that.
"You learn a lot in that experience, and I experienced a full season with a lot of hockey. I think I made some big steps."
When it comes to prospects like Lambos, the Wild weigh the upside of keeping a player around to get more face time at training camp versus sending him back to junior to begin that season.
The Wild liked how the 19-year-old Lambos has progressed, so they wanted to keep evaluating him.
"He'll go back and hopefully have a ton of confidence, which he should, and have a great season and hopefully get his pro career started," coach Dean Evason said.
Lambos isn't the only defenseman the Wild have in the pipeline.
Ryan O'Rourke, who was drafted in 2020, is still at training camp and was also in the lineup against the Blues. He's turning pro full time, and so is Daemon Hunt, another 2020 selection who was assigned to the minors on Monday.
"We've got a lot of guys that can come up and play hockey games for us on our back end," Evason said.
After drafting more defensemen in 2020 and 2021 (six) than they did in the previous four years combined (five), the Wild are starting to see those picks become possibilities.
"We're all working toward the same goal, of course," Lambos said. "But to have a couple other guys working on their game the same way I am, it's encouraging."