And you thought he would never sign.
Anders Lee didn't exactly have a storybook spring -- the Notre Dame team he captained didn't win the Frozen Four and he didn't become Playoff Hero Anders Lee or anything -- but it was still a pretty fantastic one that most hockey players his age wouldn't turn away.
The academically serious (and accomplished) Minnesota native got most of his third year of college in, signed his first pro contract, got his first NHL games in, and scored his first goal on his first shot in front of his family and partying fans at Nassau Coliseum:
Cheers to Casey Cizikas for retrieving the 1st goal puck before joining the celebration.
There were always nerves among our fanbase about whether Lee, a big scorer and leader at Notre Dame, would sign with the Islanders or use the infamous Blake Wheeler "loophole."
But at the risk of bloviating an "as I said last year," that possibility never frightened me too much because there are actually some good reasons for a kid to sign with his drafting team and get his ELC contract clock ticking. (We rehashed a few of them in this CBA update on the college "loophole" for players like Lee who played a year of non-major juniors before heading to college.)
Regardless, he signed. They got him in uniform. He got his signing bonus and a couple of NHL paychecks. And his first goal. Next season will be big, as he'll be testing himself in the pros and playing for his second contract already in summer 2014.
He has a nice shot, size that teams covet, good offensive instincts and an unquestionable work ethic. He sounds like one of those "good character" guys the Islanders love to draft. He lost some defensive battles in his first two NHL games, but that's frankly to be expected and the easiest to fix. The only remnant question, and it's not a small one, is if his skating can keep up in the NHL. It's improved since he was drafted and it's something he can work on. He probably has this summer and next season in Bridgeport (likely) to hone his pro game and maybe earn a return in 2013-14.
If he can pull it off, Isles fans will have had good reason to be so happy when he signed. He turns 23 in July, so he has a few years of us bantering about his progress in these Top 25 Islanders Under 25 countdowns.
How our panel ranked Lee in our poll:
A sampling of comments:
David Hanssen (who is biased, you know, because he too has Nordic roots and has spent
too many years in Minnesota):
We'll see how Anders' transition to the Pros will be. Like Nelson, versatile with a big build. Similar profiles, except Anders gets knocked down a couple of spots because of the age difference.
Keith Quinn (who is biased, because he's Irish, and the Irish with good reason look warily at big imposing vikings):
Talent, but raw. Will probably need a bit of development time, but I expect his ranking to either sink or swim pretty quickly. Bonus points for not using "TEH LOOPHOLE."
Mike of FIGs (who is not biased, because he is Slavic, and all Slavs are beyond reproach in hockey):
In the offensive zone, he didn't look out of sorts at the NHL level in his brief two-game stint. He needs to adjust to the NHL level on the defensive side, but that can be said of many guys coming out of college. My guess is a year at the Bridge, and a power forward will emerge.
Chris McNally (who is ... okay, I've run this joke too far):
I don't take much out of Lee's month-long stint with the Islanders because it's obvious the kid isn't ready for the big time just yet. But he sure has enough talent to have faked his way through a few NHL games not looking all too bad. Next season will hopefully be to Lee what last season was to Nino. =Hopefully Garth is wise enough to keep him in Bridgeport all season and we can check back with Anders in 2014-15.
What does Lee's future hold? The final question in the interview after his first NHL game (and goal) provides the best status report:
Stan Fischler: "What do you think? You think you belong here?"
Lee: "I ... I think I do. It's tough to say after one game. You just go out and try to do your best, and we'll go from there."