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Islanders: Three Potential Solutions for Anders Lee’s Extended Absence

UNIONDALE, NEW YORK - MARCH 06: Brock Nelson #29 of the New York Islanders celebrates his goal at 5:16 of the second period along with Michael Dal Colle #28 and Anders Lee #27 against the Buffalo Sabres at the Nassau Coliseum on March 06, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
UNIONDALE, NEW YORK - MARCH 06: Brock Nelson #29 of the New York Islanders celebrates his goal at 5:16 of the second period along with Michael Dal Colle #28 and Anders Lee #27 against the Buffalo Sabres at the Nassau Coliseum on March 06, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Oliver Wahlstrom #26 of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

New York Islanders captain Anders Lee is out indefinitely. That leaves a big absence on the Islanders top line, so what now?

New York Islanders captain Anders Lee is out indefinitely, and that obviously leaves a gaping hole in the lineup. Barry Trotz has several approaches he could take to plugging the gap left by Lee’s absence, so let’s break each of those options down.

1. Replacing from Within: Plugging in a Shooter on the Islanders Top Line

One of the three approaches to replacing Lee that I’ll discuss here is to not attempt to replace his skillset, but to plug in a shooter on the top line instead. I said it in my three takeaways from Thursday’s game, Lee’s game is simple, but he executes it like a maestro when he’s playing well.

I don’t know how many players in the entire league fulfill the duties of the net-front presence and finisher as effectively as Lee does when he’s on his game. By that logic, trying to replace Lee’s skill set as a big body seems like a less optimal approach than simply plugging a shooter into his place on the Islanders top line.

This is the approach I’ve seen most Islanders fans on Twitter take a liking to, and for the reasons I laid out above, I think I like this one most as well. Unfortunately, the Islanders don’t have a glut of shooting talent available to pick from when trying this approach out. But there is this kid named Oliver Wahlstrom everyone seems to like.

The book on Wahlstrom since before his draft season has been that he has a fantastic shot. We’ve seen that shot translate well to the pro level in 2020-21, and as a result, he’s been able to score goals, both at 5v5 and on the power-play, that outpaces his xG, or Expected Goals, metrics.

There are a lot of ways to interpret a player shooting above his xG. But, with the way the puck just flies off Wahlstrom’s stick, I’d be willing to bet that a lot of his success here has come from just being a good shooter.

Wahlstrom has played on J.G. Pageau’s wing all season, and while Pageau is very good, he isn’t one of the best offensive play-drivers the Islanders have, thus limiting the amount of really good looks Wahlstrom has gotten in the O-zone.

Could Wahlstrom’s dangerous release playing alongside Mathew Barzal, the undisputed best play-driving forward the Islanders have, be enough to replace Lee? It won’t replace the physical presence Lee has in front of the net, that’s for sure, but we’ve already established that isn’t what we’re going for with this option.

I think Barzal and Jordan Eberle’s ability to drive play well and generate dangerous scoring chances, mixed with Wahlstrom’s shot and smart on-the-puck decision-making, could make for a dynamic and dangerous scoring line that won’t replace Lee, but certainly could replace some of the overall line’s production.

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