Photo Credit: Larry Radloff Photography
Wisconsin's mediocre offense could take a significant hit if Derek Lee is out for an extended period of time.
Wisconsin's ability to score--or lack thereof--has been a regular talking point throughout the 2012-13 campaign, and with good reason. The Badgers currently rank 44th in the country (out of 59 teams) at 2.33 goals per game, and 10th in the WCHA (out of 12) with 42 goals in league play.
One of the few offensive catalyst's holding up his end of the bargain this season has been Derek Lee. The senior center has had a resurgent season thanks in large part to his ability to stay healthy up to this point. That hasn't always been the case during his four year career in Madison.
Through 22 games this season, Lee has been Wisconsin's most effective playmaker with a team leading 16 assists. Lee's 19 points rank him second on the club behind junior winger Michael Mersch. Lee also leads the Badgers in the plus/minus category at +12.
Lee's availability right now is in jeopardy, however, after a dangerous hit to the head thrown by Alaska Anchorage defenseman Austin Sevalrud. Lee was carrying the puck up the boards Saturday night when Sevalrud launched himself into the head of Lee. No penalty was called on the play despite all four officials looking at the play.
NOTE: The original article stated that the hit was given by Derek Docken. That was a mistake on my part as it was #5 Sevalrud not #3 Docken. I apologize for the inconvenience.
Lee was helped to the bench by teammates after the hit, and sat dejected with his head in his hands before eventually retreating to the locker room with trainer Andy Hrodey at the next stoppage of play.
Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves didn't have an update for the media immediately after the game, but did note that it was a head injury.
"I haven't talked to the doctors yet," Eaves said. "Everybody's in there now getting ice packs and such, and they'll look at everybody. So I can't answer that right now."
Eaves will meet with the media for his usual weekly press conference on Monday where he likely will have an update on his injured alternate captain.
Lee battled through two serious injuries last season that limited his output to 11 points in just 17 games played. The North Vancouver, B.C., native missed 11 games after he suffered a laceration to his hand in a game vs Nebraska-Omaha October 10th. Later in the season a concussion suffered vs North Dakota sidelined Lee for an additional nine contests.
A scooter accident this past October knocked Lee out of the Badger lineup for a pair of games vs Minnesota-Duluth. However, since that freak accident, Lee has been in the lineup every night this season, playing the best hockey of his four year career.
Lee's emergence this season has allowed Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves to toy with his offensive lines recently to try and stimulate other players.
This past weekend Lee was added to a line with wingers Nic Kerdiles and Tyler Barnes. The pair had recorded just one one goal combined over their past six contests. One period with Lee in the middle Friday night saw both players record goals. To no one's surprise, Lee had the primary assist on both goals.
If Lee misses any time Wisconsin has other options at center including Jefferson Dahl who stepped up in Lee's place after he left on Saturday. Dahl notched a goal and an assist in the second period Saturday, and has five points in his past six games played.
Other options to replace Lee include Brendan Woods who had been centering the fourth line and his line-mate Keegan Meuer. Woods has been quiet this season with just three points in 23 games, but showed offensive flashes last season when trust into a larger role down the stretch. Meuer has also played center during his Badger career.
An intriguing option that likely won't be available is freshman Morgan Zulinick. The Kamloops, B.C., native played center during his junior hockey career in the BCHL, but has been sidelined since the middle of November with a serious thigh injury.
One other area that Lee's absence will be noticeable is on the power-play. Wisconsin had struggled in that area all season, but a tweak this past weekend that included Lee on the point helped produce two goals on the man advantage Friday night.
Regardless of whoever fills in for Lee, Wisconsin is a weaker offensive team. Considering its struggles in that department, losing Lee for an extended period of time could be crippling for a team that is starting to find its groove.
Derek Lee hit (via Wesley Lemke)
Derek Lee hit orig (via Wesley Lemke)
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