Let’s be clear here: Anders Lee should’ve been up from the start. The only reasons that Lee went down were:
1. He was waiver exempt; and2. His skating is sometimes thought to be an issue.
#2 should be a minor issue after last year – even if they did have concerns about his skating – and scout Corey Pronman used to cite that as a probable issue with Lee – his play last year for 22 games suggested that whatever other skills he had more than made up for it. Again, this is what Lee did last year:
(A legend for the above table can be found HERE: )
That’s the stat line of a very plus possession player alongside good linemates, with a great shooting rate and who wasn’t sheltered territorially. You can see some evidence of his less than great skating in the neutral zone data – where his 37% controlled entry rate is below average for a forward, but his line was such a plus possession line it didn’t matter. They were only slightly positive in the neutral zone, which may suggest some decline, but the overall numbers are really good and even the neutral zone #s, due to the 51.1% on-ice entry rate, was terrific.
In other words, using skating as an excuse was really just an excuse. The Isles didn’t keep Lee at first because they didn’t want to lose inferior grinders to waivers. We’ve gone over this before.
So where does Lee play? On one hand, I’d think putting him alongside Bailey and Nielsen would make a lot of sense. You already had Kulemin with Nelson and Strome for 1 and 2/3 games, and it was with Bailey and Nielsen that Lee had the most success last year. Those two players and Lee should pick up quickly how they played together, and shouldn’t be harmed by a lack of practice.
But it sounds like they’re instead going with a “Kids Line” Lee-Nelson-Strome. To a certain degree this makes sense. If you recall, I mentioned Nelson’s poor shot rate had been compensated for a good bit by Grabovski taking a ton of shots. Well, in the 22 games he played, Lee managed a shot rate that was near the top of the NHL – 11th in S/60, 39th in attempts per 60 at EV. That should fit in real nicely. Course he probably isn’t as good a possession player as Grabbo, but Nelson and Strome should have that fairly well covered. A kid line SHOULD work – the issue may be more that they haven’t practiced together.
More importantly is Lee should boost performance over Colin McDonald regardless of where he is. Let’s be clear: CMac was not the 13th worst forward on this team – that would be Matt Martin, but the team won’t waive him so that’s a moot point. As we’ve previously discussed:
So what we have here [in Colin McDonald] is a guy who slightly hurts possession, who doesn’t score very much and can draw penalties.
With Lee you lose the penalty drawing and gain someone who may be a plus possession player (WAY too early to say) and who probably can score at least a little (let’s say 15 goals in a full year). The hope is that when Grabbo comes back – probably next week (although who can say with concussions) – they keep him here. I have faith they will: the team would’ve called him up earlier if they were willing to keep him up for a short term burst. The question is who goes – it should be Martin. It probably would be Conacher.