Coming into the 2021-22 season, Anders Lee may have been hungrier to make a push for the Stanley Cup than any other member of the NY Islanders. Following a torn ACL during a net-front battle with former New Jersey Devils forward Pavel Zacha, Lee missed the entirety of the 2021 playoffs and the teams run to the Eastern Conference Final.
Coming off such a debilitating injury, Lee did everything in his power to be ready for opening night, which he accomplished. Lee scored in his first game back for the Islanders in their season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes, which started a 13-game road trip to begin the season.
Much of the remainder of the first half of the season was a struggle for Lee. His best string of games came in a ten-day window in mid-march, scoring nine goals in six games after being paired with Brock Nelson. Lee finished the season with 28 goals, 1/3 of which were scored in the six-game span.
Not back at 100% for most of the season, Lee's knee injury had a lasting effect for the majority of the season.
"It's one of those things, it's not gonna feel like it's completely gone for a little bit, and that's fine. I knew that going into it. It's just one that maybe took me a little bit longer than I had worked or hoped for."- Anders Lee on his knee injury
On March 10, as the Columbus Blue Jackets visited the UBS Arena, Lee accomplished a milestone that had been eluding him for his entire career. After 29 multi-goal games, Lee finally completed his first career hat-trick, scoring the final goal with 1.2 seconds remaining in the third period as the Isles shutout the Blue Jackets 6-0. Before the hats were thrown on the ice, those 29 multi-goal games without a hat-trick were the most in the NHL. Feeling more confident in his knee, the second half of the season was much better for the Islander captain.
As he prepares for the upcoming season, Lee likely has one goal in mind, which is to return to the playoffs. When Lou Lamoriello signed Lee to a seven-year, $49 million contract before the 2019 season, it was due to his leadership and ability to put the puck in the back of the net.
After two shortened seasons due to the COVID pandemic and another still recovering from ACL surgery, Lee will look to build off the second half of his 2021-22 season where he scored 14 goals and 26 points in 30 games.
As one of the best net-front presences, Lee makes his money around the opposition's crease. In 2017-18 he became the first Islanders player to score 40 goals since Jason Blake did so in 2006-07.
In the best season of his career, cross-town rival Chris Kreider of the NY Rangers scored 52 goals playing a similar style to that of Lee. Kreider has more speed to his game but where Lee lacks in speed, he makes up for in size. Though it's likely not reasonable to expect Lee to rack up 50 goals, it's not outrageous to anticipate him finishing in the 30-40 goal range with the anticipation that he's completely healthy.
Heading into 2022-23, one of the biggest questions surrounding Lee is whose wing he will be playing on. For most of the past five seasons, he has played alongside Mathew Barzal, which is where he has been most successful. Last season, as the team was searching for goals, he found more success with Nelson than with his long-time line-mate.
Whoever Lee plays with, they will have a massive body providing screens for them in front of the net. Now that he should be fully healthy, Lee will look to return to his old self, making a living blocking the vision of opposing goaltenders.