New York Islanders forward Anders Lee had the best season of his career, and the best by an Islander winger in a long, long time.
When the New York Islanders player report cards were being assigned I wanted to be the one to write about Anders Lee. After all, I have been vocal on the internet about my opinions of Lee for quite some time.
While Lee was still in college I posted that I thought he was the second best Islander prospect on the Notre Dame roster (behind defenseman Robbie Russo).
When others said, “If he could just improve his skating…”, I said “If his skating improved as much as Tavares’ did, he would still be light years behind where JT started”. And since that wasn’t enough, I added, “This guy uses the boards to stop, like the crappy seven-year-old on your son’s team that causes them to lose every game”
And in previewing this season right here on Eyes On Isles, I named Anders Lee as the single most expendable player on the roster. I would certainly have jettisoned him from this team before Ryan Strome or Brock Nelson.
My only saving prognosticatory grace was that I mentioned often that despite being a horrible hockey player, Lee has one very valuable skill; he scores goals. And if I’m being kind to myself I should mention that I listed other similar terrible hockey players like Tim Kerr, Dave Andreychuck, and Vaclav Nedomansky. So at least I compared him to All-Stars.
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Something Happened in February
A few week into the season, I was at the guy’s throat. I tried my best to chart checks and giveaways. Lee had none of the former, and tons of the latter. As Thanksgiving neared Lee had a single goal and a lot of aimless wandering during the games.
His 25 goal season in 2014-15 looked like a distant memory. Even his 15 goal 2015-16 looked like an impossible milestone to reach. And then it changed.
Oh, sure, some of it was being placed on the same line as Tavares. But he started to catch fire before that and continued scoring even after JT got injured. Suddenly Anders Lee started going to the net to bang in rebounds, and deflect some point shots.
The confidence that flowed from seeing your name on the score sheet lead him to throw his body around. And by the time February came around he was, dare we say it, creative!
Did you catch the game in the last week of the season where he attempted two turnaround shots in the crease? How about him passing across the slot to an open Josh Bailey for a goal?
That Anders Lee that we saw for the final 50 games of the season was a top notch NHL power forward. Thirty-four goals in a season for an Islander left wing is up there in the rarified air of Clark Gillies and John Tonelli.
Sustainability might be an issue for Lee, and for the team. But it shouldn’t affect his grade for this season.
I get an F. That is undeniable.
In a year where Anders Lee led the New York Islanders in goals, became a bonafide first line winger, and grew in other areas, I think the A grade is a gimme.