As the hockey season draws near, there are many questions that will face the 2017-18 version of the New York Islanders. After missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign, the expectations are still high for the Isles. With an entirely new coaching staff and new blood ready to make an impact, this season could be something special, or the final chapter before major changes is made. Over the next 30 days, our Rob Taub will give his thoughts on what to look for from the blue and orange this season.
Behind Josh Bailey, there’s one other New York Islander fans can’t seem to figure out. His name is Brock Nelson.
Brock Nelson joined the Islanders during the 2012-13 postseason, and since then has been one of their mainstays at the forward position. Over the last four seasons, Isles fans and critics around the team have seen both sides of what Nelson brings to the table. A lot of people see the three-time 20-goal scorer who can be a beast offensively when the opportunity arises, while the others see the other player who can go invisible for long stretches of time and who still hasn’t learned to hone his defensive game.
Last season was supposed to be a breakthrough for Nelson, but he still struggled to take his game to another level. He was thought of as the new power play weapon with Kyle Okposo gone, but he never was able to transition in to the role. Brock also found difficulty in finding a consistent groove on offense. Despite his inconsistent play, Nelson still scored 20 goals and totaled 45 points in 81 games. He ended the year third on the team in scoring behind John Tavares and Anders Lee. His 45 points was good enough for fifth on the club.
It’s now over two years that g.m. Garth Snow has put his trust in Nelson to raise his game past just being able to score 20 goals, and the case can be made that still hasn’t come to fruition.
Examining this year for Nelson, this could be his last shot to finally show he’s become a well-rounded forward. Head coach Doug Weight didn’t name names when saying some players need to step it up this season, but you could see behind the lines Nelson was one of the main guys he was referring to. Weight wants his players to play a certain way at both ends of the ice, and watching Nelson’s nonchalant play in recent seasons does allow for some doubt that he could change his style.
Nelson has all the talent to be an exceptional power forward in this league, but that will only come full circle this year if he finally begins to use his size and strength. The 25-year old has always seemed hesitant to use his size, but if he’s finally going to become a consistent player, he will have to break the bad habit.
With enigmatic youngster Josh Ho-Sang most likely riding shotgun alongside him on the second line, Nelson should have even more drive this year to raise his performance. Why might Nelson also be a different player this year? He’s got two hungry rookies (Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier) breathing down his throat to take his place in the future. Both Barzal and Beauvillier are highly skilled centers that play the game with more edge, something Nelson will finally have to do. Or he could see his spot up for grabs.
If a return to the postseason is in the cards for the New York Islanders, Brock Nelson will finally have to live up to his full potential. Nelson will feel the pressure this season more than any in his five-year career. The coaching staff is looking for more from Nelson and his future with the club could be determined on if his game reaches a new level.
A lot is on the line for Brock Nelson in 2017-18. He will have all the chances in the world to show he is not the same player from years past. If Nelson rises to the occasion, success will follow.