For Anders Lee and Josh Bailey, the 2016-17 season marked a big step forward in their individual growth and as well as becoming big contributors to the New York Islanders.
Lee and Bailey both had career-years, with Lee scoring 34 goals and 52 points, while Bailey dished 43 assists and gathered 56 points. They finished second and third in Islanders scoring, respectively.
"Things went individually my way this year and worked through some adversity at the start and maybe a little bit last year," said Lee, who tied for 10th in the NHL in goals. "It's just keeping your head up and focusing on your game, your style and your chemistry with your linemates."
Lee started the season slow with one goal in his first 18 games, his breakthrough coming in LA where he potted a pair of goals. The momentum carried into the Islanders' next game in San Jose and didn't stop for the rest of the season, as Lee poured in 33 goals over the final 63 games - the second most in the NHL over that span.
Video: NYI@BUF: Lee gives Isles the lead with tricky wrister
In doing so, Lee became the first Islander not named John Tavares to score 30 goals since Matt Moulson scored 36 in the 2011-12 season.
"You always dream you can do it or believe you can do it, but the feeling when you accomplish it is pretty incredible," Lee said of breaking the 30-goal barrier. "It's very satisfying that the work and just keeping with it through the hard times has paid off and it definitely means a lot for sure."
The 30-goal potential appeared inevitable for Lee after his 25-goal sophomore season, but a 15-goal follow-up was a step backwards last season. A broken leg prematurely ended Lee's season in 2015-16, but the 6'3, 228 lb winger showed no fear going back to the front of the net this season in the bounce-back campaign.
"The season Anders had in the last 35 games he put himself in a small group," Head Coach Doug Weight said, noting Lee's 31 points (19G, 12A) in the final 39 games.
Video: NYI@LAK: Lee nets a backhand while falling to the ice
For Josh Bailey, beating his old career-high by 14 points (he had 41 in 2014-15) had a lot to do with opportunity and consistency. The 27-year-old saw his role with the Islanders increase this season, finding himself on the top line and first power-play unit.
"The opportunity I was given this year was motivating in itself," said Bailey, who scored his 100th goal, 200th assist and 300th point this season. "To have that responsibility was something I was craving. Knowing going to next year how that, it's going to push me even harder this summer."
Video: ANA@NYI: Bailey's great goal wins the game in OT
Bailey was the Islanders' top setup man this season, leading the team with 43 assists. He had eight multi-assist games, including a three-assist night in a 4-3 OT win over Vancouver. But the consistency of Bailey's production stood out. He hit the scoresheet in 43 of 82 games, making him a reliable presence from October to April.
"His compete, his focus on his consistency it's been stellar," Head Coach Doug Weight said. "He took more of a leadership role and was a big piece of the room and 56 points, he's had a good season and a consistent season."
Lee and Bailey flanked Tavares for most of the season, but when the captain missed the final five games of the season with a lower-body injury, Lee and Bailey kept scoring. Lee finished the season with six goals during the Islanders' six-game winning streak to end the year, while Bailey capped his year with a four-game assist streak.
Video: OTT@NYI: Lee roofs Bailey's 200th career assist
"You look at the year Bails had, he had a wonderful season and so did Johnny and we all took steps forward and became better players," Lee said.
Lee said he'd trade some of his 34 goals to still be playing, but the individual success is meaningful and more importantly a new benchmark to try and beat.
"Continue to do that and re-focus," Lee said. "It's motivating to try to come back and be even better."