The Islanders chosen left wing Anders Lee in the 2009 N.H.L. draft 5 rounds after choosing John Tavares first over all.
A number of months later, Tavares was in an Islanders uniform, on his means to main the group in factors in the 2009-10 season.
Lee, from Edina, Minn., headed the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League, the place he led the group in scoring. Then it was three years at Notre Dame, together with two as the captain.
Lee didn’t make his Islanders debut till April 2013, scoring in his first recreation. But he spent 59 video games with the group’s American Hockey League affiliate in Bridgeport, Conn., over the subsequent two seasons earlier than turning into an Islanders mainstay. He additionally accomplished his diploma in administration consulting at Notre Dame in 2014.
This season, Lee, 28, is trying fill the void left when Tavares departed for the Toronto Maple Leafs via free agency.
Fresh off a 40-goal season, Lee is among the team’s leading scorers again. And hours before the team’s opener, the new coach, Barry Trotz, anointed Lee to replace Tavares as the captain.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Lee said of the announcement, which was made in front of the team. “I was flooded with emotions. There were a bunch of hugs from the boys, and then it was back to work.”
It does not come as a surprise that Lee commands such respect from his teammates. And through his leadership, the team is off to a strong start without Tavares.
The Islanders, who missed the playoffs the past two seasons, are 10-8-2 after Wednesday’s 5-0 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden and have forged a 7-1-0 record in divisional games heading into Friday’s road game against the Devils.
“It was an easy decision putting the ‘C’ on Anders,” said Trotz, who won a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals last season. “The tough thing for Anders is that he is basically replacing the face of the franchise. There comes a burden with that initially. And then there comes a comfort with it.”
Lee received congratulations from several previous Islanders captains including Denis Potvin, Clark Gillies, Bill Guerin, Michael Peca and Tavares.
“J. T. said some really nice things that showed his confidence in me,” Lee said of Tavares, who is a close friend. They attended each other’s weddings this past summer after Tavares’s departure after nine years with the Islanders roiled the team’s fan base.
“You work your whole professional hockey career to make a personal decision, and he earned it,” said Lee, who can become an unrestricted free agent after this season. “John was a great locker-room guy with an unbelievable work ethic and focus. These are big shoes to fill.”
Through 20 games, Lee has six goals and nine assists after scoring 74 goals over the past two seasons.
Forward Jordan Eberle joined the Islanders before last season in a trade from Edmonton, where Connor McDavid was 19 when he became Oilers captain. Eberle said Lee’s path to success gave him added heft with his teammates.
“You look around the league, and most teams have that superstar kind of guy coming out of junior who eventually takes over a team,” Eberle said. “Leezy is a feel-good story who has worked his way up and up and up. He’s been in the minors. He’s been everywhere. He is a great guy who works hard, qualities you look for in a leader.”
Lee’s team-building efforts extend off the ice. He came into the season with a heavy heart after the death of a friend who became the inspiration for Jam Kancer in the Kan, Lee’s charity Frisbee tournament to raise money for pediatric cancer patients. The third annual event took place at Barclays Center after Sunday’s loss against Dallas and was dedicated to Lee’s friend 17-year-old Fenov Pierre-Louis, who died in July.
Pierre-Louis had become close with Lee and his wife, Grace, over the past two seasons, and even accompanied Lee to Denmark in May during the world championships before his health worsened.
“Fenov was one of those people who come into your life and change everything,” Lee said. “No matter how hard his days were or how much pain he was in, he never showed it or took it out on anybody. He just put a smile on and cared for other people.”
Lee’s efforts helped raise more than $125,000 as teammates with their wives and families stayed almost four hours after a loss to the Stars to participate.
“This is why this day is so worth it,” Lee said. “I knew Fenov would be with us. I remembered him in every way I could.”
Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was moved enough to contact Lee through social media and replicate the Kan Jam fund-raiser event last season. Zach Bogosian of the Buffalo Sabres followed suit, and this season, Ryan McDonagh and J. T. Miller, former Rangers, will hold one with the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.
Islanders left wing Matt Martin said Lee’s talent for bringing people together aligned with his rise to the captaincy.
“He’s someone who cares about people, and it’s more than hockey,” said Martin, who returned to the Islanders last summer after two seasons with Toronto. “We all want to be great hockey players and win a Cup, but at the end of the day, you want to leave your mark.”
Potvin, who captained the Islanders to four Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983, said he spoke with Lee shortly after he became the 15th captain in team history.
“I just told him to think about how far he’s come — from being a sixth-round draft pick to captain of the Islanders,” said Potvin, who retired in 1988 and is now a broadcaster with the Florida Panthers.
Reality strikes Lee when he manages to catch highlights, perhaps while decompressing between games with his two Australian shepherds, Gordie and Howie.
“Every time I see a photo from the night before on my phone with the ‘C’ on my jersey, I still say, ‘Wow,’ because I’m not used to seeing it there,” he said. “It’s a big letter.”
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