2. Replacing from Within: Trying to Replace Lee’s Skillset
While plugging in a shooter like Wahlstrom could be a net positive, it’s also possible that Barry Trotz opts not to fundamentally change the way his top line plays immediately. In this scenario, Trotz would probably be looking not to replace the goal-scoring production Lee brought to the top line, but that big body net-front presence instead.
In the event that this is the direction Trotz chooses to go, the Islanders have a number of players with a similar build to Lee’s who could serve as a hindrance to goalie vision and redirect pucks on net.
I am not super fond of this course of action, because like I said in the last slide, I don’t know of any current NHL’er who does what Lee does, as well as Lee does it.
Forget the Islanders roster, I’m talking the entire NHL. That’s well over 700 players, and I can’t name one who plays Lee’s game as well as the Islanders captain can. Lee is imposingly strong, has the hands to redirect pucks well and stickhandle in tight spaces around the crease, possesses an under-appreciated shot, and forechecks and retrieves pucks very well for a player with below-average skating.
While Michael Dal Colle, who in my opinion has played his role well for this Islanders team during 2020-21, could be big and strong enough to park in front of the crease, I and others think he lacks the hands to create offense from that location. His offensive vision has also made some improvement, but it too is lacking what it would take to fill the void Lee leaves behind.
Kieffer Bellows is another option here. Bellows has shown a willingness to play bump-and-grind hockey in every appearance we’ve seen from him thus far, so it only makes sense he’d probably be willing to get dirty in front of the net. But, like Dal Colle, I haven’t seen the hands or offensive IQ that it would take for Bellows to play that role with any consistency.
Plus, due to some defensive missteps, Bellows seemed to be in Barry Trotz’s doghouse after his last appearance, so I’m not banking on him returning to the lineup anytime soon. Especially not with top-line minutes being doled out to him.
There are a number of options to plug in as a net-front presence on the top line’s left-wing. I’m not really super high on any of them, though, and for that reason, I feel this shouldn’t be Barry’s first option when considering how to replace Lee.