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 p - NYR 82 53 22 7 252 192 113
2 y - MTL 82 50 22 10 221 189 110
3 x - TBL 82 50 24 8 262 211 108
4 x - WSH 82 45 26 11 242 203 101
5 x - NYI 82 47 28 7 252 230 101
6 x - DET 82 43 25 14 235 221 100
7 x - OTT 82 43 26 13 238 215 99
8 x - PIT 82 43 27 12 221 210 98
9 BOS 82 41 27 14 213 211 96
10 FLA 82 38 29 15 206 223 91
11 CBJ 82 42 35 5 236 250 89
12 PHI 82 33 31 18 215 234 84
13 NJD 82 32 36 14 181 216 78
14 CAR 82 30 41 11 188 226 71
15 TOR 82 30 44 8 211 262 68
16 BUF 82 23 51 8 161 274 54

STATS

2014-2015 PLAYOFFS
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Tavares 6 2 4 3 6
J. Bailey 6 2 3 2 5
N. Leddy 6 0 5 1 5
R. Strome 6 2 1 1 3
K. Okposo 6 2 1 1 3
C. Clutterbuck 6 2 1 2 3
B. Nelson 5 2 0 1 2
N. Kulemin 6 1 1 0 2
L. Visnovsky 4 0 2 5 2
J. Boychuk 6 0 2 1 2
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
J. Halak 3 3 1 .926 2.34
M. Neuvirth 0 0 0 1.000 0.00

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