Anders Lee is still technically a rookie, with only 24 NHL games during two seasons. So his Islanders training camp begins Thursday, along with 26 other Isles prospects who will be at Nassau Coliseum for physicals and conditioning tests before hitting the ice on Friday under the tutelage of Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson.
Ryan Strome is no longer a rookie, having played 37 games with the Isles last season. But Strome will join Lee and defensemen Griffin Reinhart and Kevin Czuczman as rookie-camp participants who may have spots on the opening-night Isles roster if they can have a strong camp and preseason.
For Lee and Strome, the forward situation is awfully crowded. Once the Isles camp begins a week from today, there will be 16 other forwards with NHL experience who require waivers to be sent down to the AHL. Strome and Lee do not need waivers, so they will need to show quite a bit to bump an older veteran out of a spot.
"It really only makes the team better," Lee said of the roster competition. "I really feel I can help the team and if I can make the team better, then I'm in the right spot. I'm going to come in and play my game and hopefully things will fall into place. The end of last year was good, but that's last year. I showed them what I can do, even in a small sample, but I believe I can do that over a longer stretch of a whole season. Just come in, play my game and not think too much about it, I guess."
Lee may have only 24 NHL games, but he has 10 goals -- nine of them coming in his 22-game stint at the end of last season, when John Tavares was out and Kyle Okposo missed the final 10 games. Lee got top-line left wing minutes with Frans Nielsen and Okposo, and he got top-unit power play time. The results were there, with five assists to go with his nine goals.
"I just come in and play hard," Lee said. "I prepared all season for that opportunity last season and when it came, I did my best to take advantage of it. Except this year, I don't want to have to wait. If I come into camp and do what I can, things should work out."
Lee signed his one-year, $850,500 qualifying offer quite willingly. The hope is that another productive season will lead to something longer-term for the 24-year-old who spent three years at Notre Dame before turning pro.
But first, he has a few extra days on the ice to fine-tune things before NHL camp opens. That may seem like a slight to some, but Lee is not one to sulk.