Andy Graziano and I have begun our annual season review, taking a look back at the 2016-17 Islanders and analyzing each player's performance in a down season that saw the team miss the playoffs by one point.
We will be offering two reviews per week that will take us right through to the beginning of training camp in September.
27 - Anders Lee - C/W
27 years old
Contract: $3.750m cap hit, signed through 2018-19 (UFA)
Season: 81 GP, 34 G - 18 A - 52 Pts, 56 PIM, 191 Shots, 15:35 TOI, 52.5 Corsi
Career: 261 GP, 84 G - 61 A - 145 Pts, 154 PIM, 641 Shots, 14:53 TOI, 53.1 Corsi
Despite all the flash of Josh Ho-Sang, the steadiness of John Tavares, or the emergence of Calvin de Haan, it may be Lee who had the best season for the 2016-17 Islanders.
Lee had shown a lot of promise on JT's wing before, but Jack Capuano was hesitant to stay with him there for a full season. In fairness to Jack, Anders followed up his strong 25-goal rookie campaign with just 15 goals. But that's probably giving Capuano more of a break than I should, because anyone who watched the team and looked beyond the simple stats knew Lee had played in some very tough luck in 2015-16. He deserved far better that the hockey gods had given him on the score sheet.
Still, Lee's game did need slight refining, and he did have a tendency, tough luck or not, to go through prolonged scoring slumps. And after having a Johnny Boychuk slap shot break his leg and end his season on the eve of the playoffs last year, I think some fans questioned exactly what they'd get out of Lee in 16-17.
What Lee produced, though, was the breakout campaign that may have officially anointed him an elite NHL winger.
Anders' 34 goals and 52 points were career highs, as he showed no trepidation in going to the net. And even better, Lee found a way to finish off more from the circles. His presence on the power play gave the Islanders a legitimate opportunity to spread the attack out, and with Josh Bailey also having his best season of his career on his other wing, the top line emerged into the biggest bright spot in a very roller coaster season.
Lee also was able to play in all but one game, showing that his injury was not a cause for further concern. That's music to the Islanders' ears, especially as they look to get better possession play from their second, third, and fourth units. If Lee and Jordan Eberle can handle the top line, it should allow Bailey to drop down and bring some defensive mindedness to the secondary lines, making New York much better up front.
IPB Grade: A. I think it's fair to say Lee was the best Islander in 2016-17, and a repeat this season should set Anders up for a big pay day two summers from now.