Anders Lee of the New York Islanders skates against the...

Anders Lee of the New York Islanders skates against the Columbus Blue Jackets at UBS Arena on March 10, 2022. Credit: Jim McIsaac

One year ago, Anders Lee was trying to crawl off the Nassau Coliseum ice after tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament.

On Friday, the Islanders captain faced the Jets at UBS Arena with five goals in his previous two games, including his first career hat trick in Thursday night’s 6-0 win over the visiting Blue Jackets. And he scored another against the Jets in a goalmouth scramble in the second period.

There are moments when Lee still feels the injury. Suffice to say, it’s not hampering his play right now.

"I went into this year hoping to not allow that to be the case," Lee said. "I think it took me a little bit longer than I would have hoped for. But it’s one of those things where you’ve just got to keep going and keep working through. Right now, it’s feeling pretty good. It’s in a good spot right now.

"There’s lingering things that come with it. The strength is there. The confidence is there. It’s one of those things that’s not going to feel like it’s completely gone for a little bit and that’s fine. I knew that going into it. It’s just one that maybe took me a little bit longer than I had worked for or hoped for."

Lee enters Friday’s game with 19 goals — second on the team behind Brock Nelson’s 22 — and seven assists in 48 games. Lee, the net-front presence on the Islanders’ first power-play unit, led the team with six man-advantage goals. Other than missing one game with a stomach illness, four games because of COVID-19 and Saturday’s 2-1 win over the visiting Blues for personal reasons, Lee has been a constant in the lineup.

His first career hat trick — on a third-period, buzzer-beating power-play goal as his teammates repeatedly fed him the puck at the crease— came in his 568th regular-season game. Per Islanders statistician Eric Hornick, Lee had recorded the most two-goal games of any active player (29), and four this season, without notching a hat trick prior to Thursday.

That left Lee anticipating a call from Eric Boulton, the former Islander and current pro scout for the organization who serves as the greeter for new members to the hat trick club. The burly Boulton had one in his career, for the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) in 2010.

"We were also laughing a little bit that Eric Boulton once had a hat trick and he’s now the welcome committee for the hat trick club," Josh Bailey said. "So I’m sure Leesy probably has got a message waiting from Bolts saying, ‘Welcome to the club.’ We got a chuckle at that, too."

"I’ve been waiting for that one for a while," Lee said. "It’s awesome. We always have a good laugh with Boltsy. I’m excited to get back to him."

It was no laughing matter when Pavel Zacha fell over Lee’s extended right leg in the first period of a 5-3 win over the Devils on March 11, 2021. Surgery quickly followed and Lee missed the Islanders’ second straight playoff run to the NHL semifinals, serving as an unofficial off-ice cheerleader as he traveled with the team and resumed skating on his own.

He was back on the ice with his teammates when the Islanders opened training camp on Sept. 23 and had three goals while playing in the last two of the team’s five preseason games. Lee also had a goal in a season-opening 6-3 loss in Carolina on Oct. 14.

Still, Lee acknowledged the injury has affected his play this season, even if he wouldn’t specify how because, "Everyone deals with stuff."

But, a year later, Lee does have a new perspective.

"Right now, I’m grateful."

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