Chris Lee, Canada’s only non-NHLer at World Championship, may come to NHL next season

Chris-Lee;-Team-Canada

Chris Lee, Team Canada.

Canada’s silver medal-winning team at this year’s World Championship was crowded with NHLers whose seasons ended prematurely. Nathan MacKinnon and Mitch Marner were the top scorers and Mike Matheson and Colton Parayko led the way on defence.

But there was one unlikely contributor, who stepped in only after Tyson Barrie was lost to injury.

Chris Lee, a 36-year-old left-shot defenceman who has never played an NHL game and hasn’t even played in North America since 2010, stepped in for seven games and scored two points. He was the only minus player for Canada and played just 5:19 in the gold medal game, but Lee had a great season in the KHL. With 65 points in 60 games (a new KHL record), he led all defencemen in scoring by a whopping 27 points. In fact, he’s been a top four scorer at his position in the KHL every year since joining Magnitogorsk Metallurg in 2013-14.

It wouldn’t be the biggest shocker if an NHL team wanted to pick up a low-risk, low-cost player with a penchant for offence.

All sorts of teams could potentially be interested, but it’s worth mentioning that Lee’s KHL defence partner was 24-year-old Viktor Antipin, who is expected to sign with the Buffalo Sabres.

The question is, what kind of production could we expect from Lee who has been passed over by NHL teams for so long? We turn to the analytics community, where some project Lee as an overlooked talent who could be a surprising offensive contributor.

If Lee were to come to the NHL it would be one of the most unlikely routes ever taken. Never drafted, the 6-foot, 185-pounder isn’t big as far as the NHL is concerned, but he would bring the puck skills that are more appreciated each year.

“He’s a great skater. He’s a real power-play specialist. I don’t say that in a negative way because sometimes that can conjure up an image of a guy who can’t play in his own end,” Canadian World Championship assistant GM Sean Burke, told Sportsnet’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman.

“Chris has found his game later. He never had an NHL career. He came over to Europe and came into his own. He’s smart and he can handle the puck. On the big ice, when you’ve got those skills and you’ve got the head for the game, it’s a nice combination.”

Lee played junior hockey in the OPJHL with the Couchiching Terriers and then joined SUNY-Potsdam for three years, a New York State College Division 3 team. He bounced between the ECHL and AHL for a couple years before becoming an AHL regular with Omaha, Iowa, Bridgeport and Wilkes-Barre from 2006 to 2010. After that he went to Europe, where he’s been ever since.

And if he ends up not signing in the NHL, expect to see him representing Canada at the 2018 Olympics.

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