When Does Anders Lee Get His Chance?
With Ryan Strome now seemingly a permanent fixture with the Islanders, the main focus of the prospect pool turns to Anders Lee. The former Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward is having a quietly productive season thus far with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He is flying under the radar to most simply because of how well Strome was producing while playing along side Lee in the AHL. Lee has all of the potential to have just as much of an impact as Brock Nelson and while not as gifted as someone of Strome's caliber, can certainly develop into an impact player in the NHL.
Through 33 games with Bridgeport, Lee has amassed 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points in his rookie campaign as a professional. The even split in goals and helpers goes to show the complete game Lee will bring to an offense which again has me comparing him to Brock Nelson's style of play. Lee is a big body that will dish out hits and find the score sheet on a somewhat regular basis. The only number that is low for a player of Lee's ability is his plus minus rating which is at an even 0. The knock on Lee's game through scouting reports and as he has developed to date has been his defensive play. This criticism is evident seeing that with 25 points he is only at a 0 rating. Keep in mind this is a far from dominant team in Bridgeport, but as a comparison linemate Mike Halmo, who has 23 points with Bridgeport is a plus 7. The ability to improve defensive play will come with time and has a lot to do with experience and development of strength. However, Lee has the skill set and hockey sense that has me believing this aspect of his game will improve sooner rather than later.
Taken by the New York Islanders in the 6th round (152nd overall) in the 2009 NHL entry draft, Lee is looking more and more like a steal for the Islanders since they were able to select him so late. In 125 games over 3 years with Notre Dame, Lee tallied 61 goals and 55 assists for 116 points. While in is third and final season with the Fighting Irish he also served as the team captain. This is yet another good character leader that the Islanders have coming up through their system.
The Islanders have branded themselves as a franchise that will do literally anything to avoid rushing a prospect to the NHL. Ever since they brought Josh Bailey in as an 18 year old before he was ready, they have been walking on eggshells with their prospects, and understandably so. This philosophy is arguably the reason Nino Niederreiter was shipped to Minnesota, but the problem with Niederreiter went beyond just development. Niederreiter thought he was entitled to a roster spot after throwing up a whopping 1 goal and 0 assists with a minus 29 rating in 55 games during the 2011-2012 season. While I do believe Niederreiter will develop into a good NHL player, there is no room for that sense of entitlement. I am 100% on board with the slow and steady development process, however it gets to a point where you begin to wonder why some are still being developed when they should be given a shot with the big club. Ryan Strome was one that fell in this category as many, including myself thought he was ready for the NHL out of camp this year.
At this juncture, I believe Anders Lee is ready to be given a shot to see what kind of assistance he can offer the Islanders. Even when Strome was recalled, he sat out a game to get practices in and "be with the team" before just jumping into the lineup. In a similar situation, Griffin Reinhart was kept with the Isles out of camp and spent about a week with the team without dressing for even one game before being sent back to his junior team in Edmonton. Management said it was to get him exposure to the professional way of life and to experience the day to day happenings of being in the NHL. Again, I don't disagree with this philosophy as it is a big change, but Lee already has that exposure.
Disregarding the fact that Lee already has 33 games in the AHL, Lee spent about a month then the playoffs last season with the Islanders. At the conclusion of his collegiate season, Lee went pro and leap frogged Bridgeport and joined the Islanders right away, and even though he only dressed for two games his impact was felt. Lee made his debut on April 2, 2013 in a home contest against the Winnipeg Jets. In the game, Lee scored on his first shift on his first shot on goal, beating Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec from the half board. The Islanders went on to win the contest by a final of 5-2. I cannot even fathom the feeling of scoring on the first shot of your first career NHL game because I can't even fathom playing in the NHL period. In his second game, Lee notched an assist on a Matt Martin goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning that ended up being the game winner in a 4-2 Isles victory. Being that those are the only two NHL games on the resume of Anders Lee, I'd say he is off to a good start.
This is where the debate comes in. Based on production in the AHL this year and his ability, one would say Lee is ready for the NHL, but with the current location of the Islanders at the bottom of the standings there can be arguments made for and against his promotion. The optimist would say that even though the Isles are in last place in the Metropolitan Division and 11 points out of a playoff spot, there is still plenty of time left to make up ground. The division itself is weak and it is looking more and more like both wild card teams will be representatives of the Atlantic Division. So yes, 11 points is a large hurdle to leap but given the circumstances it is certainly attainable. This is where you could say that the Isles need all of the help they can get to start racking up some wins and Lee could be just the guy to do so. There are guys on the roster not pulling their weight, namely Josh Bailey and Peter Regin so there is a justifiable reason to bring Lee into the fold.
The pessamist would argue that since they Islanders are playing so poorly, it would be wrong to take Lee away from his first line minutes in Bridgeport to play third line minutes on a team with a bleak outlook for this season. This is also a valid argument but it would mean the overall mentality is that the season has already been chalked up as a failure, and I for one refuse to say that until the Islanders are mathematically eliminated from contention.
My opinion is this, Lee deserves to be with the team. Pierre-Marc Bouchard has already taken a fall for the group of forwards on Long Island that are not producing and was sent to Bridgeport to make room for Strome. To be honest I think it should have been Regin because Bouchard actually contributed at times, albeit inconsistently. Regin is on a two way deal so send him down and give Anders Lee the chance he deserves. Will Lee have mishaps and make mistakes? Absolutely, but he is a kid and it is all part of the process. Worst case scenario you have a lateral movement production wise since you can't really produce less than Regin's 1 goal and 3 assists in 33 games. Best case scenario you bring in a youthful player that has an impact and helps this Islanders team turn their season around.
There is a lot to take into consideration when talking about Anders Lee, but he is a capable player that deserves his chance to sink or swim.
What are your thoughts? Should Anders Lee get a shot with the Islanders or should he remain in Bridgeport to further his development there? I would love to hear your opinions in the comments.
As always, thanks for reading!