Thanks to the pandemic, the Stanley Cup Playoffs have looked a little bit different this year. There were no Eastern Conference or Western Conference playoffs, and we now sit with two teams who normally reside in the East battling it out for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
After an exciting regular season, the Minnesota Wild’s run at a Stanley Cup ended early in the first round to the Vegas Golden Knights.
However, as the playoffs continued, there were plenty of connections to the State of Hockey. Those notable connections included Anders Lee of Edina, Nick Leddy of Eden Prairie, Brock Nelson of Warroad and Ryan McDonagh of St. Paul.
Lee, Nelson and Leddy skate for the Islanders while McDonagh is with the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. All four are in the midst of successful NHL careers. They all also played all four years of high school hockey right here in Minnesota. It is a perfect example of the fact that playing high school hockey in Minnesota can lead to successful pro careers down the road.
Prior to starring on Long Island, Lee made a name for himself at Braemar Arena in Edina.A three-sport athlete in football, hockey and baseball, Lee excelled in each sport.
In hockey, however, his impact was seen quickly. He finished with 54 points in his first season in a Hornets’ sweater as Edina finished second in the Class 2A state tournament.
During the 2008-09 school year, Lee continued his success. He put up 25 goals and 59 assists for the Hornets playing alongside guys he had played youth hockey with from a young age.
College recruiters in both football and hockey pursued Lee. However, eventually elected to play college hockey at Notre Dame.
After being drafted in the sixth round by the Islanders, Lee spent three seasons in South Bend with the Fighting Irish. He finished his career with 61 goals and 55 assists and also made an appearance at the Frozen Four in 2011 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Following his junior season in the spring of 2013, Lee entered the NHL, appearing in his first pro game with the Islanders in 2013. He appeared in two games, tallying a goal and an assist.
During the next two seasons, Lee bounced between the Islanders and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League. Starting in 2015, Lee became a mainstay in the New York lineup.
The Edina native had arguably his best season during the 2017-18 run when he tallied a team-high 40 goals.
This season, Lee had tallied 12 goals and 7 assists in 27 games. However, his season was cut short in March when he tore his ACL.
Though Lee spent the 2021 postseason watching from afar, Leddy was a mainstay on the blue line for the Islanders. The 2009 Mr. Hockey Winner out of Eden Prairie turned down a chance to play for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program and played alongside his friends and won the school’s first boys’ hockey title.
Leddy then took his talents to the University of Minnesota after being drafted in the first round of the 2009 NHL Draft by the hometown wild. He played just one season in Dinkytown before joining the professional ranks. Between draft day and his exit from the Gophers, Leddy had been traded to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Playing in the Windy City, Leddy joined a loaded Chicago team coming off the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title in half a century.
In 2013, Leddy got his moment of Cup glory as he played on a dominant Blackhawks squad. After one more season playing in Chicago, Leddy was traded out east to the Islandres.
Since moving to Long Island, Leddy has been a consistent member of the New York d-core and has been a master of the assists. Since joining the team prior to the 2014-15 season, he has accounted for 243 assists. He’s also been a part of five different playoff runs since heading East.
In the most recent playoff run, Leddy was a consistent player in the New York lineup. In 19 postseason games, he dished out six assists.
As for Nelson, the Warroad native has joined an extensive list of players from that area making a big-time impression at the professional level.
As the nephew of the infamous Christian family, Nelson had big skates to fill as a player at Warroad. In three seasons, he lived up to the challenge. He finished his final two seasons with a combined 74 goals and was a Mr. Hockey finalist his senior season.
Starting in the Fall of 2010, Nelson made his way west to Grand Forks to play for the University of North Dakota. As a freshman and sophomore, he finished with a combined 36 goals and 32 assists.
Nelson elected to move on from North Dakota shortly after his sophomore season as he signed an entry-level contract with the Islanders. They took Nelson with the 30th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft.
Nelson started out with the Islanders’ AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. His NHL debut came in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
After his brief appearance in that postseason, Nelson stuck with the big-league squad. Since the 2014-15 season, Nelson has scored at least 18 goals in every season. His career best came in both the 2015-16 season and the 2019-20 season.
During the 2020-21 season, Nelson and his teammates dealt with a shortened season thanks to COVID. In 56 regular-season games, Nelson posted 18 goals and 15 assists. His production was key for New York as he posted seven goals and five assists in 19 playoff game.s
McDonagh, who captured a Stanley Cup one season ago playing for the Bolts, continues on his long-standing hockey career.
Playing in his hometown of St. Paul, McDonagh starred for Cretin-Derham Hall. As a junior, he led the Raiders to their first boys’ hockey state championship. The next year, he took home Mr. Hockey.
Months later, McDonagh heard his name called as he was selected with the No. 12 pick by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2007 NHL Draft. The Canadiens would eventually trade his rights to the New York Rangers.
After three seasons at the University of Wisconsin, McDonagh made his way to New York and played for the Rangers starting during the 2010-11 season.
As a rookie, McDonagh split time between the AHL and NHL but became an NHL mainstay soon after. That included during the 2013-14 season when he helped the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final, where they ultimately fell to the Los Angeles Kings. He finished the year with a career-best 14 goals.
During the 2017-18 season, McDonagh was traded again. This time, he headed south to Tampa Bay. He is now in his fourth season with the Lightning and looking for his second Stanley Cup with the franchise. Heading into the Final against Montreal, he has five assists this postseason.
Though not all four ended at the same spot, they all have accomplished their NHL dreams while also getting the full high school hockey experience.