If you asked the Magic 8-Ball this summer about Matthew Lombardi's future, the inanimate fortune-teller's answer likely would have been: 'Reply hazy, try again.'
That's not a crack at the serious concussion the young Calgary Flames centre suffered as a rookie at the hands of Derian Hatcher in the 2004 playoffs. But, after a promising freshman campaign during which he scored 16 times, Lombardi's development was sidetracked nearly a year while recovering from the vicious headshot from Hatcher.
Then an ankle injury early last season further clouded his progression and a lengthy contract negotiation with the Flames resulted in him inking a one-year pact in August.
Lombardi started training camp as the top centre between newcomer Alex Tanguay and captain Jarome Iginla but was alongside Chuck Kobasew and Kristian Huselius to start the regular season.
His supporting cast has continued to evolve but one thing has been perfectly clear so far -- Lombardi has a bright NHL future ahead.
He and Iginla share the team lead with three goals and seven points and Lombardi's plus-7 rating was the third best in the league heading into last night's games. His streak of five games with at least a point is a personal best.
Iginla has seen the 24-year-old's rollercoaster evolution firsthand.
"All the way through training camp, he's had so much more confidence," said Iginla yesterday. "The plus-7 is very impressive. As a team, I wouldn't say a lot of us, with our start, are really high pluses."
Speed is Lombardi's greatest asset. His dash to the net Tuesday night led to Marcus Nilson's goal and he was right there serving as a decoy with Tony Amonte on a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush that gave the Flames a 3-1 lead.
Lombardi knows his strengths and what he has to do to be effective.
"I think one of the keys is just trying to do it consistently," said Lombardi. "When you look up to guys like Jarome, the older guys (like Amonte) and their successes, it's always been bringing it every night and being consistent.
"That's what takes you to the next level."
Flames coach Jim Playfair says Lombardi has it in him to be a great player. Lombardi's chemistry with pal Chuck Kobasew is obvious and moving him from the top line after a few games of experience was probably the best move Playfair could make.
"Coming out of training camp, Matthew was trying to figure out where he fit into the group," said Playfair.
"Settling him in with Daymond in front of him was probably a really important development for Matthew. Him and Chuck Kobasew realize that they are the young kids on this team that have to step up."
Lombardi's off to a good start this season. The question remains whether he can overcome past inconsistencies and bring it every night.
'Signs point to yes.'