Our annual, 2021 version of the top players under the age of 25 in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.
#13: Cam Lee, left defense
2020 Ranking: #9
Age: 24 (February 23, 1997)
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 190 pounds
Acquired Via: Signed as undrafted free agent (March 2020)
As it was for most everyone, 2020-21 was a unique year that saw Cam Lee play in two leagues thousands of miles apart. Lee was able to make the most of for his first campaign as a professional, with successful turns in multiple places.
His season started out in Slovakia on loan to get some games under his belt as most of the European leagues were able to begin towards the fall while the AHL was inactive and sorting out plans to begin their schedule. Lee was great there, putting up 11 points in 14 games and able to showcase his puck skills and skating ability.
Lee stayed in Slovakia into December, coming back to Pittsburgh for the very short one week of NHL “training camp” in January. He then was sent to Wilkes-Barre, which started up in February. Lee finally got to make his North American pro debut at that point and appeared in 31 of the 32 WB/S games this year, notching an impressive 15 points to lead the team’s defense in assists and points on the shortened season.
Wilkes-Barre coach J.D. Forrest said of his rookie defenseman in March to the Post-Gazette: “Cam Lee is a great skater, real deceptive, can make some plays on his own to beat a forecheck or on the offensive side when he has the puck. We’re just making sure that he’s got his risk-reward calculator out at all times.”
Getting through some of the rookie learning curve at the AHL level and making the smart plays was a process for Lee, as it typically is for all first timers. Having gone undrafted and playing all four years of college, Lee is a bit old for how he has advanced through the ranks, but his progress made lately has been very impressive. The Pens’ other marquee defenseman free agent signing in Josh Maniscalco is younger and had more difficulty finding the lineup, by comparison to Lee who was able to carve out a much bigger niche.
Here’s one of Lee’s goals on the season (#28) as he jumps up into the play and scores. His shot isn’t overwhelmingly powerful but it can be well-placed.
This game against Hershey in May (the last of the season) was very active with Lee also adding an assist and a fight to that goal to secure a Gordie Howe hat trick.
As the year went on, Lee was settling in and becoming one of the best players in Wilkes with his puck control game. He recorded six points (1g+5a) in the final seven games of the AHL Pens season.
One other noticeable and telling statistic is that Lee also fired 19 shots on goal in those final seven games. That’s a real testament to how much he helped the Pens get the puck to the offensive zone and his ability to create offense with his shot.
Overall Lee recorded 75 SOG in the 31 games according to the official AHL stat sheet, and was held without a shot on goal in just three of his 31 AHL games. More often then not he demonstrated the mindset to get pucks on net from the point, despite only scoring two goals in his AHL season, that’s always a good sign for the process and presence at the right end of the ice paying off.
As of now, Lee could probably use more defensive seasoning in his game as he fully embeds himself in with the Penguins. One issue for his immediate future is that left defense is undoubtedly the deepest position in the organization with Brian Dumoulin, Mike Matheson and Marcus Pettersson tying up NHL lineup spots, top prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph developing well and Juuso Riikola in some form of organizational limbo. That’s a lot of bodies ahead of Lee, but potential injuries, trades and waiver situations for various players ahead of him could make an NHL debut a possibility in 2021-22.
For now, Lee figures to at least be a key cog in the Wilkes-Barre power play next season and draw a lot of minutes to continue to refine his craft and showcase his ability. As an organization, the Penguins don’t have a ton of young talent at the AHL level who have offensive upside, but Lee has already shown in his brief AHL time that he can be a difference maker with the puck and his skating ability, giving him an increasing amount of value to the team.
He’s a bit on the older side but has shown a lot of potential as a “late bloomer” in the second and final year of his entry level contract to finally get a full year in to continue his progress.