Prospect Report: Anders Lee, Matt Carkner (Yeah, Him), and Depth Forwards
Anders Lee named NHL’s Rookie of the Month
Anders Lee was called up for the Islanders early in the season and has not looked back since, becoming a fan favorite known for his knack for getting to Butch’s dirty area and scoring the scrappy goals on a what seems to be a pretty consistent basis. He has the energy and toughness you would expect out of a former 5th round pick that worked hard to get to the NHL and has proven that he is an everyday player at this level despite not making the opening night roster. He has amassed an impressive 20 goals to go with 13 assists, which is good for 3rd place among rookies in goals and 5th in total points. He is also one of only two Islanders with 20 goals, the other being John Tavares. It seems as though Lee will be challenging for a Calder nomination at the conclusion of the season along with the rest of the very impressive rookie class.
As February’s Rookie of the Month, Lee scored 15 points (7G, 8A) in a busy 15 game month for the Islanders, which was the most points among other rookies. During that stretch the Islanders finished with a 9-5-1 record, despite February being a tough month for the injury ridden squad that played a ton of hockey. Lee has enjoyed an opportunity to play on the team’s top line alongside John Tavares, which has benefitted both players greatly. Tavares has been on an absolute tear and now leads the NHL in points, while Lee has enjoyed plenty of scoring opportunities on the red hot line. The line’s third member, the often overlooked Josh Bailey, has very quietly put together a nice stat-line as well with 31 points, just two behind Lee and good for 7th on the team. If Lee can continue to produce on the top line, it will be a challenge for Jack Capuano to choose between demoting Bailey or Lee upon Kyle Okposo’s return.
Matt Carkner (yeah he’s alive) scores for Bridgeport
Carkner has been nothing short of an afterthought following the upgrade of the Isles defense this offseason and the injury that kept him off of the active roster until February 16th, when he was waived. Of course without a tweet from Staple and the Islanders, nobody would’ve noticed or cared. Well for those of you that remembered the tree trunk of a defenseman that spent parts of two seasons on the Islander blue line, he scored his first professional goal since the 2011-2012 season with the Bridgeport Soundtigers this week. His loan to Bridgeport is labeled as a rehab stint to get back to NHL shape, but there is little doubt that the 34 year old defenseman has seen the last of his days in an Islander sweater as the 3 year, $4.5 million contract he signed prior to the 2012-2013 season is set to expire. In 75 games with the Islanders, Carkner had 5 assists, 195 penalty minutes, all with a -12 rating. He mostly served as the Islander’s seventh defensemen and it will be an uphill battle to catch on with another NHL club next year after back surgery this past offseason.
Which of the Islander Depth Forwards Belongs?
Due to a painful stretch of injuries following the All-Star break, an Islander roster where you couldn’t pick out the player to scratch, now has to figure out which depth forward is the right one to plug in when multiple forwards go down. Currently Kyle Okposo, Casey Cizikas, and Mikhail Grabovski are out with injuries with varying timetables, which has led to opportunities for Colin McDonald, Harry Zolnierczyk, and Kael Mouillierat to prove that they can handle the NHL game and fill in the cracks while players heal.
Colin McDonald was sent down to the AHL early in the season and took it very well despite being a regular for the Islanders in the past. He was called back up in early February and has since proven that he is able to carry out his role as a depth forward. He has made a very strong case to remain with the Islanders for the remainder of the season and my best guess is that he will remain as an extra forward when the team starts to get healthy again. With the plethora of injuries, Zolnierczyk and Mouillierat have also gotten opportunities to don the Isles logo. Zolnierczyk saw action in two games and then was promptly returned to Bridgeport despite what was a solid fourth line style effort in my opinion. The Islanders then summoned Mouillierat from the Soundtigers and inserted him into the lineup as the fourth line center, filling in for Casey Cizikas, a role he is still currently fulfilling. The MoleRat has been noticeably lost on the fourth line despite possessing goal scoring talent, something he showed while scoring his first NHL goal against the Coyotes. He is not made for the role, and is not nearly responsible enough defensively to remain in the lineup. He has also taken some pretty bad penalties, already accumulating 8PIM in 5 games. Compare that to Casey Cizikas only having 18PIM in 53 games and add in the fact that he is one of the team’s best defensive forwards and you really start to notice the gaping hole his absence has left in this lineup.
As far as filling that hole, I would send Mouillierat back down and give Cory Conacher the opportunity to regain his role as an NHL forward. He is undersized, but plays very hard and is much more responsible in his own zone. He also has much more experience in the NHL and already has experience playing on the fourth line from early on in the season before his demotion. The shuttle from Bridgeport to Uniondale has already been very busy, so why not make one more move to continue to test the team’s depth chart in case the injury bug gets any worse? I don’t see any harm in returning Conacher to the lineup until Cizikas and Grabovski can return, which is hopefully very soon.