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Anders Lee makes himself part of Islanders' future

Anders Lee of the New York Islanders celebrates

Anders Lee of the New York Islanders celebrates his second-period goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Anders Lee had no qualms about taking the Islanders' qualifying offer this past July, a one-year contract worth $850,500. The just-turned 24-year-old forward had promising numbers in his short stint with the Isles at the end of 2013-14, but he was in no position to demand anything and was only being offered a multiyear deal at a low number.

So, much like the way Lee has barreled through his hockey career, he bet on himself. It was a smart bet.

He scored his 20th goal on Tuesday in his 56th game this season, having missed the first five games when he was sent to Bridgeport at the end of training camp, a victim of the forward glut and his waiver-exempt status.

Goal No. 20 for this season was also goal No. 30 for his NHL career, which has run 80 games over three seasons; he's still considered a rookie, so he became the third rookie this year to reach 20 goals.

"You play the way he does, go to the net, good things are going to happen," Jack Capuano said. "You see what he does and you wonder why some other guys don't do it more often."

What Lee does is quite simple: He goes to the opposing net and parks his 6-2, 225-pound frame there, waiting to deflect a shot or vacuum up a rebound to deposit in the net.

It's not as easy as it sounds. There's plenty of whacks and shoves to take, without retaliating. There's skill to deflecting shots and avoiding them. And there are the necessary skills away from the puck -- skating, defense -- that Lee has worked on since his days at Notre Dame to become a dependable NHL player.

"He's just a guy that works hard all the time," said Brock Nelson, who assisted on Lee's 20th and is Lee's good friend and locker-room neighbor. "I think we all knew the situation at the beginning of the year, that he was more than ready to play at this level. And he's been proving it every day since he came back. He's a big part of what we've got going in here."

So the one-year contract strategy that Lee and his agent, Neil Sheehy -- who also represents another Minnesota-born Islander, Nick Leddy, as well as Lubo Visnovsky -- decided on last year means that negotiations now with Garth Snow may have taken a dynamic shift.

Lee will still be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but Nelson is right: His friend is as important to the Isles' success this season as Leddy, who just signed a seven-year, $38.5 million contract, or any Islander not named John Tavares or Jaro Halak.

Sheehy and Snow have certainly discussed Lee's future along with Leddy's the past few months, though nothing appears imminent. Lee will keep barreling along, certain that he made the right decision last summer.

"It felt good," Lee said of scoring his 20th. He has reached 20 goals at every level of organized hockey: USHL, NCAA, AHL and now the pinnacle.

"It's not anything special that I've been doing," he said. "Just getting some good bounces and being in the right position. It's been fun."

New York Sports