As the hockey season draws near, there are many questions that will face the 2017-18 version of the New York Islanders. After missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign, the expectations are still high for the Isles. With an entirely new coaching staff and new blood ready to make an impact, this season could be something special, or the final chapter before major changes is made. Over the next 30 days, our Rob Taub will give his thoughts on what to look for from the blue and orange this season.
Before last season started, there was a belief among many that something was keeping Anders Lee down.
Lee’s struggles stemmed from being benched for game seven of the 2015 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Washington and from his below-par performance throughout the entire 2015-16 season where he only registered 36 points in 80 games. Another setback that affected Lee’s mind was breaking his fibula with two games left in the 15-16 season, which forced Lee to miss the playoffs, where the Islanders passed the first round for the first time in 23 years.
As the 2016-17 season got underway, those struggles could been seen with how Lee was performing. He looked unmotivated and out-of-place only tallying two points in his first 18 games. Then on November 23rd in Los Angeles, his season and maybe his young career took a complete turn for the better. Lee scored both goals for the Islanders in the third period in a 4-2 defeat, but a sense of relief fell over the 26-year old.
After that night, Lee went on a warpath.
Over the next three-quarters of the season, Lee would become the Islanders biggest offensive weapon. He scored 32 goals and registered 18 assists. His style of play was getting recognition not just from his teammates, but Lee was starting to get praise from around the league. After Doug Weight took over as head coach, Lee, John Tavares and Josh Bailey combined for 50 points in a 17 game stretch showing off their chemistry as a unit, and balanced skill-set. Lee would continue his spectacular play down the stretch as he scored he hit 30-goals for the first time in his career on April 3rd in a win against the Sabres. The Islanders would miss the playoffs by one point, but it was Anders Lee who was one of the key players that got them to that point.
Looking ahead to this season, it will now be on Lee to decide how much better he can get. And that includes possibly a 40 goal campaign.
The Islanders acquired winger Jordan Eberle in the offseason to play counterpart to both Lee and John Tavares. We all saw the production go up with Tavares and Bailey a year ago, now with Eberle in the fold, Lee has another playmaker who’s skill can help him raise his game to a completely different level. The addition of Eberle also gives Lee another player that with excellent offensive awareness and a knack for finding his teammates in tight spaces.
Lee’s use on the power play could also help him shatter his numbers from last season. There’s no doubt now, that Lee is that big body presence that the Islanders were lacking for many years as they tried to become successful on the man-advantage. It took some time for the coaching staff to realize that. But most likely a new strategy this season, Lee could see more pucks thrown at him from all different angles because his stick and body are weapons in his arsenal.
The biggest reason Lee could reach the 40-goal plateau is not Jordan Eberle, or how he will fit on the Isles power play, its his confidence. After he found the net twice that November night, Lee played like a man possessed. He will not be coming in to training camp with people asking questions, instead he should be ready and willing to make an even bigger mark on his future individually and for the Islanders in the future. Lee figures to be with Tavares and Eberle until seen otherwise, so that should also motivate Lee to want to up his game and show the rest of the league, him and his line-mates shouldn’t be taken lightly on any night of the week.
Last year was a culmination of the struggles Anders Lee went through professionally and from a mental standpoint. This year the expectations are bigger than ever for the Edina, MN native, and rightfully so. Lee is just getting started and destined for more.