Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
Growing up in Edina, Minnesota, Anders Lee excelled in school as well as in sports. A three-sport athlete in high school (hockey, baseball, football), the 27-year old left wing now has quickly established himself as one of the premier power forwards in the National Hockey League. And no, it's not simply a product of playing with captain John Tavares, one of the top-ten players in hockey.
For the Edina Hornets, Lee won the starting quarterback job in his junior year and passed for 2,049 yards and 14 touchdowns, leading his team to the championship game. That winter, he made the transition to hockey, scoring 32 goals and adding 22 assists.
He was even more dominant as a senior, passing for 2,007 yards and five touchdowns and scrambling for 1,105 yards and 32 touchdowns, averaging 308.7 yards of offense per game, being named a finalist for Minnesota's coveted award, 'Mr. Football' (He lost to someone now playing in the NFL). His success and confidence carried over to this final season of high school hockey, where he posted 25 goals and 59 assists in just 31 games, losing the 'Mr. Hockey' award to now teammate, Nick Leddy.
After spurning offers to play college football, Islanders fans should be thanking their lucky stars that Lee decided to go to Notre Dame and commit to hockey full-time, scoring 61 goals and 55 assists in 125 games across three seasons in the CCHA. "It was a sport I could never see myself giving up," Lee told USA hockey. "I always grew up loving hockey, and it was always my favorite sport. It was fun to be able to play multiple sports in Minnesota and to have that opportunity though."
Amazingly, Lee was a sixth-round draft selection (152nd overall) in the 2009 NHL entry draft despite his gaudy amateur numbers. Players selected before him include Nick Jensen, Michael Zador, Derek Rodwell, Gabriel Dumont, Lance MacDermid, Ryan Howse and others. Don't recognize the names? Figured as much.
After scoring 35 goals in his first 100 NHL games, Lee, like many other players before him, struggled in his second full season, dropping to 15 goals in 80 games. Many fans didn't know what to make of the regression, wondering just what type of player Lee would become. Patience would become a virtue, as Anders had a career year in 2016-17, potting 34 goals in 81 games. He became a force setting up shop in his 'office', directly above the blue paint, becoming a real burden to reposition.
This year? How about 19 goals in his first 31 games, a 50-goal pace, trailing only Nikita Kucherov and Alex Ovechkin (22) for the coveted Rocket Richard trophy as the league's top goal scorer.
Getting engaged to girlfriend Grace Dooley last Christmas was only the tip of the iceberg on what has been a whirlwind year. Dating back to November 25, 2016, Lee is second in the entire league in goals scored (50) and has become a permanent fixture, not only in front of goal, but as part of a deadly first unit that head coach Doug Weight sends out on a nightly basis, with captain Tavares and the team's leading scorer Josh Bailey. Lee currently leads the team in goals (19), power play goals (6) and shooting percentage (24.7) while placing second in power play points (10) and third in shots (77).
His skating and agility, since his debut as a 22-year old in 2012-13, have improved dramatically and his play along the boards is second to none on the roster. Outside of Andrew Ladd, you would be hard-pressed to think of any forward among the starting 12 that consistently does a better job digging pucks out of a crowd or using their frame to shield defenseman from the puck, leading to sustained offensive zone pressure.
I guess, as far as the Islanders are concerned, you can call Lee one-of-a-kind. But the league better step up and start taking notice, including Lee in every conversation where the topic of the best power forwards in all of hockey comes up. Because, while you were busy not noticing, Lee has taken Usain Bolt-like strides to not only placing on the list, but being right at the top of it.