BUFFALO – At first glance, you might not recognize Robin Lehner. While the 6-foot-5 Sabres goalie wouldn’t give an exact number, he appears to have shed around 40 pounds since April. His hair, which he has often worn long, is closely cropped. His bushy beard is gone.
“I’ve lost a decent amount of weight, got in shape,” Lehner said Monday after skating inside HarborCenter. “I’ve done some life changes. It’s not always going in a straight line, you know?”
The adversity Lehner, 25, experienced in 2015-16, a season in which a high right ankle sprain limited him to only 21 appearances, has changed the Swede. He understands he has a special opportunity with the Sabres. He believes in the organization and enjoys living in Buffalo.
The passionate Lehner has just about everything an athlete could want. That’s why he wants to seize his chance as the Sabres’ No. 1 goalie. He said he’s 100 percent again and will be ready for training camp later this month.
“It’s just new choices, new me,” he said. “I’m really excited for what they’re building here in this city and being a tough year as it was personally for me last year, I really … feel good here. I like the city, I like the people in Buffalo – calm, relaxed, laid-back-type people. I want to stay here. The only thing I can do is prepare the best I can.”
This summer, Lehner said, “he just went all in.”
“(I’m excited) to see where it takes me and I’m really excited to see where it takes us,” he said.
After undergoing season-ending ankle surgery in March, Lehner stayed in Buffalo the entire offseason, spending much of his time training at WNY MMA. The workouts helped his agility, speed and “all-around strength,” Lehner said.
“I have no problems,” said Lehner, who has also improved his nutrition. “I don’t feel (my) foot practicing off ice, on ice. Right now, I just keep strengthening all the muscles around the ligaments in my foot. So I just keep it strong and try to prevent it from future injury.”
Just having the chance to rehab and train again felt good for Lehner, who suffered a severe concussion in February 2015 playing for Ottawa.
He developed bad habits while sidelined most of last summer, and it showed. The Sabres listed him at 240 pounds. Still, despite the extra weight and a three-month absence after getting injured opening night, Lehner played well last season, going 5-9-5 with a 2.47 goals-against average, a .924 save percentage and one shutout.
“I can play heavy,” he said. “If I can play heavy, it’s going to be exciting to see how I can play now.”
Lehner recently withdrew from the World Cup of Hockey, a tournament in which he was slated to be Sweden’s No. 3 goalie, because he wanted to focus on the Sabres and the upcoming season.
“I’ve been putting my time in and focusing on my team,” he said. “We have a very important season ahead of us. I think we believe in each other. I need to be here more than I need to be there right now, being around my guys getting ready for the season, getting ready for camp.”
Lehner said he started feeling normal again a month and a half or two months ago.
“Started pushing it more than I had done before,” he said.
Lehner began on-ice workouts with goalie coach Andrew Allen about a month ago and joined his teammates Monday for the first time.
Clearly, Lehner’s itching for the season to start. He believes the moves general manager Tim Murray made early in the summer, most notably acquiring defenseman Dmitri Kulikov and winger Kyle Okposo, greatly improved the team.
“I give Tim a lot of credit,” Lehner said. “He tried to make the team better each and every day. He’s put a lot of pressure on us, which is good.”