Brock Nelson perfectly represents what the Islanders are all about. Taken in the first round of the 2010 NHL Draft, Nelson was a college standout at University of North Dakota. When he arrived on the Island, it took him some time to find his place, struggling to stay consistent for entire seasons. He even had a tense contract negation with Garth Snow, dealing with adversity most of his young career.
However, he persevered. In the 2018-19 season, Nelson replaced John Tavares as the number one center, leading a consistent, defensively-minded top-line. While Mat Barzal was the name, Nelson was the backbone of the forward unit, earning a six-year, $36 million contract extension. This year, he was fantastic once again.
It is wonderful to watch Nelson play hockey. He has an elite wrist shot which scares opposition on a nightly basis. He has strong puck-moving abilities, frequently finding the open man at even strength and on the man-advantage. But most importantly, he is an incredibly sound defensive player, matching up against top forwards every game.
With his wallets heavier, Nelson’s game stayed strong in the regular season. He finished behind only Mat Barzal in points, recording 26 goals and 28 assists, good for 65 point pace over a full 82-game season. His +6 represented his strong two-way play and when Casey Cizikas went down, Nelson stepped up on the penalty kill, keeping the group consistent. After Barzal, Nelson was the clear second best forward on the team, even earning some consideration for the top spot amongst many.
Nelson does what he needs to do. And when the team struggles, Nelson is not the guy to lead his team out of bad stretches. He is a good supplementary piece and thrives away from the spotlight, not leading his team as the go-to guy. There are few complaints from Nelson’s game, but a small one is he is not the most dynamic, game-changing player.
The expectations coming into the season were mixed. Mat Barzal was supposed to lead the team in points. Anders Lee or Jordan Eberle were supposed to lead the team in goals. Casey Cizikas and the fourth line were supposed to lead the team defensively. Few expected Nelson to once again have the impact that he did. It is not an understatement to say Nelson is a top-three player on the Islanders — thus, he exceeded his expectations this year.
The Moment of the Season
In late November, the Islanders were on one of their best runs in their franchise. Nelson was a huge reason why. In consecutive games against the Penguins, Nelson found the back of the net in overtime, preserving an impressive streak that made history.
Below are all his goals from the 2019-20 season, including those two overtime winners.
The verdict is simple. Brock Nelson is a crucial piece to this Islanders team. Offensively and defensively, Nelson is a leader and his play is crucial for Barry Trotz and his system. If Nelson can keep this momentum going for the duration of his long-term contract, it will be a bargain.