Graduating to the NHL

Anders Lee is earning credits in the NHL, with 10 points in nine games for the Islanders.

Monday, 03.17.2014 / 5:22 PM ET / News
By Cory Wright
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Graduating to the NHL
Anders Lee is earning credits in the NHL, with 10 points in nine games for the Islanders.

Had Anders Lee continued attending Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business as a full-time student, he’d have earned his bachelor’s degree this spring.

Instead, the management major and first-year pro is one of the hottest players in the NHL, as well as one of the newest. Set to graduate this summer, Lee has 10 points (six goals, four assists) in nine games this season – all since the Olympic break – largely from working his 6’2, 225 lbs. frame down low.

Lee’s phenomenal start earned him a promotion to the Islanders top line when Michael Grabner left the Islanders-Canucks game with a concussion on March 10. Alongside Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, Lee picked up two points – a goal and an assist – in the third-period comeback and has played with the same linemates ever since. In the following two games, Lee netted another three points (two goals, one assist).

“I just get them the puck and try to go to the net,” Lee said. “I try to be a big body presence and just work off their skill. It’s a big opportunity and you have to go out there and earn it.”

Lee’s presence has also translated into success for Nielsen and Okposo, who are riding three-and four-game point streaks, respectively. Nielsen, who is the smallest of the three forwards, has benefited from the increased time and space, scoring goals in three straight.

“I just wanted to make a difference and try to stay here as long as possible. When you get up here you have to do that night in night out.” Anders Lee

“Lee is big and strong and wins a lot of wall battles,” Nielsen said. “He’s really fun to play with because every time you lose the puck he gets it right back. He competes so hard.”

The Edina, MN, native was having a successful first season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers prior to his call up. He was second in team scoring with 22 goals and 19 assists, but now at the highest level, he is already producing above that pace.

“He has seven goals in his first 10 NHL games,” Okposo said referencing Lee’s goal in his first career game last season. “That’s pretty special.”

Lee has made the transition to the NHL look easy, but perhaps his game is better suited for the top level. Where the AHL can be unpredictable and more error-prone, the NHL is more structured and better executed. Lee can count on players around him getting pucks to the net, where he does his best work.

Even when Lee’s not on the scoresheet, he’s helped the offense by taking away the goalie’s eyes, as evidenced by Okposo’s power-play goal Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres.

“He’s playing to his strengths, which is what you have to do to be a good player in this league,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “He’s playing the way that we want to play.”

Lee is making a strong case to be included on next year’s roster by taking advantage of a unique opportunity now. It’s not often such a green player gets top-line minutes.

“I just wanted to make a difference and try to stay here as long as possible,” Lee said. “When you get up here you have to do that night in night out.”

A one-way ticket to Long Island would be a great graduation gift when he earns his diploma this summer.

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 x - NYR 76 48 21 7 231 179 103
2 x - MTL 77 47 22 8 203 174 102
3 x - TBL 78 47 24 7 250 204 101
4 NYI 77 45 27 5 235 215 95
5 PIT 77 42 24 11 211 194 95
6 WSH 77 42 25 10 227 190 94
7 DET 76 40 23 13 221 208 93
8 BOS 77 39 25 13 204 198 91
9 OTT 76 38 26 12 220 204 88
10 FLA 77 35 27 15 192 210 85
11 PHI 77 31 29 17 202 220 79
12 CBJ 76 37 35 4 210 234 78
13 NJD 77 31 33 13 170 197 75
14 CAR 76 28 37 11 176 208 67
15 TOR 78 29 43 6 204 249 64
16 BUF 77 22 47 8 152 258 52

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Tavares 77 34 43 -2 77
R. Strome 76 16 32 20 48
K. Okposo 55 16 31 -11 47
F. Nielsen 76 14 28 8 42
B. Nelson 77 19 22 7 41
A. Lee 71 23 16 10 39
J. Bailey 65 15 23 3 38
J. Boychuk 67 8 25 9 33
N. Leddy 73 10 21 14 31
T. Hamonic 67 5 26 16 31
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
J. Halak 36 16 2 .913 2.42
M. Neuvirth 1 3 1 .881 2.94

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