Is Brock Nelson the Next Play-Making Center for the Islanders?
After signing an Entry Level Contract with the New York Islanders back in May, fans must be wondering when Brock Nelson might make his debut in the NHL. Nelson only improved in his two years of playing WCHA hockey as he tallied 68 points in 84 games played. In his first season at the University of North Dakota, Nelson might not have put up numbers that would have made him a standout with the Fighting Sioux, but the freshman managed to hold his own after transitioning from playing high school hockey in Minnesota. (SaraMelikian/Flickr)
Before Nelson arrived at the University of North Dakota, the pivot was highly productive in 31 games played for Warroad High School as he averaged more than three points a game and had a +55 rating. Some may have expected the center to be an offensive dynamo in his first year of WCHA hockey, but Nelson was also placed on a team that had significant talent at the forward position.
While the forward only recorded 21 points (8 Goals, 13 Assists) in 42 games played, half of his goals came on the man-advantage, an indicator that better production would come as the center grew more accustomed to WCHA play.
Nelson did not fail to impress throughout the 2011-2012 season as he picked up his play and became the University's youngest player to reach the 20 goal plateau (a record previously held by someone named Jonathan Toews). After receiving a good amount of ice time in his previous season, Nelson built upon his first season with the Fighting Sioux and finished the hockey season with 47 points (28 Goals, 19 Assists) before having a four game stint with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL.
With the New York Islanders seemingly stocked on talent at center, Nelson might be one of the most interesting prospects for the Isles behind Ryan Strome. While Strome's progression with the Niagara IceDogs has been widely documented, Nelson could be in line for a significant role with the Islanders in the future. Many scouts have projected Nelson to be a second or third line center in the NHL and the forward's size and speed will definitely make him an asset for New York.
Josh Bailey will likely be started on the wing for the 2012-2013 NHL season as the forward had some great chemistry alongside Frans Nielsen during the latter part of the 2011-2012 season. If Bailey moves to the wing permanently, then the Isles' tertiary option at center would have to be Marty Reasoner.
Even though Reasoner did not have a good campaign in his first season with the Islanders, he will be given another shot at centering the Isles' third or fourth line. However, if Reasoner cannot make a significant improvement in his play for the upcoming season, then it wouldn't be that farfetched to expect to see Strome or Nelson being added for depth purposes in New York.
Strome and Nelson are both young and talented players, but it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility to see these players donning an Islanders uniform within the next two seasons.
Players such as Josh Bailey may have been rushed into the center position, but Nelson already has the skill set and frame to start competing in the NHL. Standing at 6'4” and weighing nearly 200 pounds, Nelson has the height and weight to battle for the puck and win tough face-offs.
While the Isles might not be relying on Nelson to get ready for the NHL as quickly as he possibly can, one has to consider the fact that the center was a +18 in his last season with the University of North Dakota. Nelson does possess great size and will probably get stronger as he matures, but the Islanders would definitely be happy to have a hard working two-way center as one of their bottom six forwards.
Nelson could then work himself into a better position and find himself in New York's top-six forward rotation, but that will undoubtedly require much work and dedication from the pivot over the next couple of years.
This much is for certain: the New York Islanders will have some interesting talent to consider at the center position in the next couple of years.
Ryan Strome will likely be with New York sooner rather than later, but fans should not be surprised to see Brock Nelson getting a call-up in the not too distant future. Size, speed, and a hard shot might be some of Nelson's biggest assets thus far, but the forward also possesses a set of intangible skills that will make him a nice addition alongside cerebral players such as Tavares and Strome.