It's a small sample size, but NY Islanders' captain, Anders Lee, has had a rough go of it out of the starting blocks this season. Lee has never been the most skilled or the fastest player on the ice, but he's always managed to rack up goals, finishing near the top of the Isles leaderboards every season.
In six of the last seven seasons, Lee has finished either first or second in goal-scoring for the Isles, with the only exception being in 2020-21, when he suffered a season-ending torn ACL. But through four games this year, Lee has looked like a shell of his old self.
He's started this season on the Isles' third line, skating alongside JG Pageau and Hudson Fasching. Lee and Fasching have found it challenging to keep up with the speed of Pageau. With Julien Gauthier inserted to replace Fasching last night, Lee's been left as the one chasing the play. Over the last two games, Lee was shuffled into the top line with Bo Horvat and Mat Barzal, as he's spent a large piece of his career playing with Barzal.
"We'll see what happens with that, but more net presence for that line," said Lane Lambert following the Isles OT loss against the New Jersey Devils on Friday. "That's what we were looking for. Leesy (Lee) is good at that."
Lee's play has resulted in reduced playing time thusfar, averaging 15:14 of ice time, down nearly two minutes from last year. Last night, he saw the most ice he's seen all season, playing 16:35. A perennial cog in the Isles' first power play unit, Lee has been relegated to the second unit, averaging 1:56 per game on the man-advantage
Yet to score this season, Lee has just seven shots on goal. With just one season in his career where he's finished with more assists than goals, Lee must find a way to get the puck toward the net more often if he hopes to be effective in any way with his diminishing ice time.
It appears the only position on the ice Lee seems to fit is with the top line. The experiment of having him on the third line hasn't resulted in much success for anyone, and the second line of Nelson, Engvall, and Palmieri has been the Isles' best and unlikely to be broken up.
If Lee can't find a home on the top line, the next move could be to healthy scratch him, but it's difficult to justify sitting your captain and one of the organization's highest-paid players with a $7M cap hit.