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Lee anticipating challenges for Islanders in Metropolitan Division

Forward cites big offseason moves made by Devils, Rangers

by Jessi Pierce / Correspondent

EDINA, Minn. -- Anders Lee knows the Metropolitan Division will be a lot more challenging for the New York Islanders this season.

"You look at our division, not just this season but the past few years, we've got three Cup wins in the last four (Pittsburgh Penguins, 2016 and 2017; Washington Capitals, 2018)," the Islanders captain said Monday at Da Beauty League, a 3-on-3 set of summer league games for NHL players with ties to Minnesota. "You go back and you see 100-point finishes from teams in our division. It's always been tough, and now it's even tougher with trades and moves that have gone on. If you come out of the Metro, you're going to be in a pretty good spot." 

Lee, an unrestricted free agent who signed a seven-year contract with the Islanders on July 1, looks at what the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers have done during the offseason. The Devils selected center Jack Hughes with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, acquired defenseman P.K. Subban in a trade with the Nashville Predators on June 22, signed free agent forward Wayne Simmonds on July 1 and traded with the Vegas Golden Knights for forward Nikita Gusev on July 29.

Video: Lee on re-signing with Islanders for seven years

The Rangers signed forward Artemi Panarin and acquired defensemen Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox in trades. They also chose Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft. 

Though the Islanders haven't been active in the trade market, they kept Lee and re-signed forwards Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson. They also signed goalie Semyon Varlamov to a four-year contract July 1 to replace Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner, who signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks the same day. The moves came after what Lee called a statement season when the Islanders finished second in the division and reached the Eastern Conference Second Round, when they were swept by the Carolina Hurricanes.

"We changed the expectations a little bit, and now we're going to have to rise to those and improve on them," said Lee, who had 51 points (28 goals, 23 assists). "We still have a lot to accomplish and a lot to go out there and improve. We have a great foundation to go off of from last season. All the hard work we put in … we can take a lot of the things we faced and grow from them.

"When you have a core that's coming back like we do, that communication, the understanding of the guys in the room, how guys work, all those things, that break in period is shorter and we're ready to go."

Video: How can the Islanders raise their level next season?

Lee said the effort and continued development of young players including center Mathew Barzal, 22, and defenseman Devon Toews, 25, have him thinking big.

"It's not hard to say, 'Why not?'" Lee said. "We're a great team that can do a lot of great things. ... It's all about belief in the room, belief in each other, belief in yourself and what the coaches have to say. It's cliché, and you're sick of saying it over and over, but those are the things that really do work and really do win. I think we can do really great things and I couldn't be more excited."

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