Anders Lee looked like he was ready to compete for a job with the Islanders last summer when he dominated during the team's rookie camp in July. But Lee, the Isles' sixth-round pick in the 2009 draft, chose to return to Notre Dame for his sophomore season.
That sophomore year may be drawing to a close, with the Irish headed into Game 2 of their best-of-3 series with Michigan in the CCHA quarterfinals Saturday night down 1-0 in the series.
Notre Dame and Lee got off to a fast start this season, going 15-6-3 and sitting at No. 1 in the college hockey rankings. Lee had 12 goals in his team's first 11 games. But both cooled off -- Lee scored his 17th of the season on Friday night -- and, if the Irish were to be eliminated Saturday night or Monday, they might not earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
Which means Lee, who turns 22 on July 3, would be free to sign with the Islanders immediately and suit up for their stretch run.
The Islanders do want to sign Lee, as they did last summer, and the organization sees him competing for a spot right away. Lee isn't permitted to negotiate until his college season is over, so no one knows what his plans are.
There was some concern that Lee could end up like Jason Gregoire, the Isles' 2007 third-round pick who became an unrestricted free agent last summer and signed with the Jets. The current NHL collective bargaining agreement allows a college player to become a free agent four June 1s after his draft year if he isn't signed.
But that may be moot for Lee with that loophole almost certain to be closed in CBA negotiations this summer. He will almost certainly begin his career with the Islanders, it just depends on whether it happens in the next week or two or for training camp.
Deadline deals are iffy
Seeing so much of Ilya Kovalchuk this week is a reminder that in-season deals, like the one that brought Kovalchuk to the Devils from the Thrashers in February of 2009, almost never work for the team dumping a star. Atlanta-turned-Winnipeg has no one on its roster from that trade two years ago: the Jets traded Johnny Oduya to the Hawks at this year's deadline, Patrice Cormier is in the minors and Niclas Bergfors was waived and is now in Russia.
It's reminiscent of the last big Islanders trade, when Ryan Smyth came over from the Oilers in the final minutes of the 2007 trade deadline. Garth Snow dealt two prior first-rounders, forwards Ryan O'Marra and Robert Nilsson, and the team's 2007 first-round pick. None of the three assets traded are in the NHL now, even though Smyth is back with Edmonton.
Nelson a top prospect
The Islanders will eagerly await Brock Nelson's decision after his sophomore season at North Dakota finishes, though that may be further off than Lee's.
Nelson had 20 goals to lead all scorers in the WCHA, and his squad was looking to finish off Bemidji State Satuday night to reach the conference quarterfinals. Nelson has put some muscle on his 6-4 frame and the Islanders are eager to get him in the fold to start next season at Bridgeport.
Contract talks await
With the trade deadline come and gone, contract talks between the Islanders and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov have taken on less urgency, since the team has four months before Nabokov becomes an unrestricted free agent. P.A. Parenteau was another potential trade chip, but talks will begin in earnest after the season.