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Zella: Loss of Anders Lee huge for the Islanders

Tonight marks the first time this season the New York Islanders will be without captain and leading goal scorer, Anders Lee. It creates a huge, almost unfillable hole in the Islanders’ top-six and a major blow to the team’s leadership on and off the ice. Few NHLers can do what Lee does, and a direct replacement would be nearly impossible to find for general manager, Lou Lamoriello.

And that’s ok.

The Islanders don’t necessarily need to replace Lee’s style, they just need to find someone who can be successful alongside Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle. In the short-term, in-house options are limited and probably only include Anthony Beauvillier. Since his return from injury, Beauvillier has provided the second line with the spark they needed to get going, giving Brock Nelson a boost offensively and creating a balanced lineup. He’s played with Barzal before and it’s worked out well. Dal Colle is an easy plug-in on the second line with Nelson and Josh Bailey. Those three found success early this season and it wouldn’t surprise many to see them reunited.

There have been calls for Oliver Wahlstrom to get a chance with Barzal and Eberle, and while that feels like the right move on the surface, it doesn’t seem likely. Wahlstrom has had sheltered minutes playing alongside J.G. Pageau and a mix of wingers on the third line. Along with time on the power play, Wahlstrom isn’t quite ready to get first-line minutes. He’s been an amazing addition to the third line and has created fantastic depth, but he isn’t a long-term option for the Trotz on the top-line.

With Dal Colle on the second line and Wahlstrom remaining alongside Pageau, it would be nice to see Kieffer Bellows return to the lineup and get a chance to redeem himself. It’s more likely, however, we see Leo Komarov in that role, especially against the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers.

Outside of the organization, Taylor Hall’s name has returned to Isles’ fans’ tongues for the last 36 hours. Hall hasn’t played particularly well this season, and while I’ve been on record saying the Islanders should avoid him, at this point, if they can make a deal for the pending UFA, especially one that gets Thomas Hickey or Leo Komarov off the books for this season and next, it’s almost worth whatever additional assets the team needs to give up – 2nd round picks, Bellows, etc. Considering the amount of movement that will be occurring and the opportunities for trades and signings this offseason with the expansion draft, any additional flexibility would be welcomed by the team especially if they can remain a contender this season.

If he wasn’t already, Lamoriello will have his hands full over the coming days as he and the organization ensure the team can remain in contention without their captain.

Follow Jon on Twitter @JonZella

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