Preparing for his junior season at Umass-Lowell, LA Kings prospect Andre Lee continues to prepare for the next level. Just ask his coach.

With LA Kings Development Camp kicking off this week, it is as good a time as any to look at some of the club’s prospects who will be taking part. That includes forward Andre Lee, whom the Kings drafted 188th overall in 2019.

When the Kings drafted him two years ago, Andre Lee was preparing for his transition from the developmental United States Hockey League to the collegiate ranks. Now, the Karlstad, Sweden, native is preparing for his junior season at UMass-Lowell. I recently spoke with Umass-Lowell head coach Andy Jones, who updated me on Lee’s development, how he’s played thus far, and what to expect from the 21-year-old this coming season.

“We continue to be impressed with Andre’s development,” Jones beamed. “He’s a hard worker. He’s constantly working on his craft, so it doesn’t surprise us that he’s steadily improving. I believe this past year– you know, it was a challenging year [due to COVID]. We stopped and started a lot, but he was productive again.”

After scoring eight goals and 12 assists in 33 games as a freshman, Lee potted seven goals and nine assists in 20 games as a sophomore last season, making the most of the limited playing time. He even notched a plus-seven rating for the second-straight season, proving that he was an asset on the ice without necessarily being part of scoring plays.

But, Lee’s advantage to his team wasn’t — and isn’t — limited to his offensive contributions.

“I think he’s improving significantly in a couple of areas: He’s obviously a very very big guy and he’s learning,” Jones added. “He’s filling out and he’s learning how to use his body to protect the pucks and be a little bit more of a threat down low below the dots in the offensive zone.”

Because he was drafted in the seventh round by the Kings in 2019, skeptics may use Lee’s late selection to dismiss — and even discredit — the 21-year-old’s chances of making a living at the NHL level. However, it is notable to point out that the silver-and-black have already had some of their seventh-rounders suit up for them in recent years: Nic Dowd and current Kings blueliner, Matt Roy. Heck, if we refrain from resorting to false modesty, we can safely agree that the latter has been — and will continue to be — an integral piece to the Kings’ bright future. What else is notable is that Andre Lee and his development are not indicative of how late he was drafted two years ago.

“He’s also rounding out his game more,” Jones noted. “He’s understanding that sometimes being in better defensive positions puts him in a better spot to get the puck back and go in on offense. So, I think he’s kind of rounding his game out and proving that in a lot of different areas.”

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As is the case for any young athlete on their developmental path, it is crucial to focus on attitude as much as it is on performance. Fortunately for Jones and his staff, they haven’t had any reason to worry about Lee’s attitude.

“Andre has always been and continues to be really coachable,” stressed the UMass-Lowell coach. “He’s a good person. His teammates like him, coaches like him, and the reasons for that are that he treats people with respect. So, he treats his teammates with respect, treats his coaches with respect, and, as I said, he is a student of the game and he’s constantly trying to get better.”

As for the Sweden native, it’s all about getting better and letting the experts lead the way.

“Andre’s going to listen to anybody that can give him a tip or a tidbit that might help him out even one percent,” Jones added. “So, he’s been really respectful with us and I think he enjoys it here, and he’s just enjoyable to be around, in turn.”

While Lee will be in Los Angeles this week at the Kings’ aforementioned development camp, Coach Jones is nonetheless excited for Lee to return to Umass-Lowell for his junior season. While there is still work to do as far as improving his forward’s overall game, though, the River Hawks’ bench boss is eager for what’s to come — especially when Lee has so much to offer when he’s not scoring.

“Andre has long been a productive player and we hope and we believe that he’ll continue to be even more productive this year,” Jones said. “I think, part of where he has to go is to understand and improve all different aspects of his game, so that when the scoring dries up for short periods of time, which it does for every player in the world, that he continues to be a factor in the game. So, what I mean by that is just finding a way to impact the game in a lot of different ways. So, helping out defensively, improving his skating so he can track back and get the puck quicker. improving in faceoffs– just improving in a lot of ways that don’t end up on the scoresheet so that he is constantly impacting the game. Basically what that amounts to is just consistency because all scorers tend to be inconsistent at times when they– because you can’t score all the time; it’s just hard to score in hockey these days. So, where Andre has to go is to just find ways to be basically consistent, and that’s just by contributing in small, different ways every time that he’s out there.”

The new season may not be upon us yet but this week’s development camp signals the return of Kings hockey in the form of the club’s promising future. What comes of it remains to be seen, of course, but the excitement is nonetheless palpable, especially with a dark horse, so to speak, like Andre Lee in the mix. Another player attending this week’s camp will be Lee’s college teammate, defenseman Ben Meehan, whom the Kings drafted in 2020. More on him later, though.

As for Lee, he has come a long way since the silver-and-black drafted him in 2019 and he will have a golden opportunity this week to show the Kings just how far he’s come.

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