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Taub: Brock Nelson Has Continued His Ascension from Last Season

Brock Nelson has come a long way since being one of the most enigmatic figures among Islander fans not too long ago. Nelson, 28, is now one of the building blocks that has prompted the success that’s occurred recently under the regime of head coach Barry Trotz and g.m. Lou Lamoriello. He’s also evolved into one of the cornerstones for the franchise that’s hoping to return to its glory days of the ’80s that saw them competing and winning Stanley Cups four years in a row.

That evolution, from being an inconsistent presence that was playing nowhere near his potential to becoming one of the Isles’ most prolific forwards, was what led Lamoriello to make Nelson his top priority when the offseason got underway. Just a few weeks after being swept out of the second round by the Hurricanes, Nelson and the organization hammered out a six-year, $36 million contract that would keep him here until the 2024-25 season.

When Nelson signed the contract, he was quick to point out that staying here was his “biggest opportunity.” And starting off his brand new deal  — he’s picked up right where he left off last year.  Tuesday night, Nelson recorded his third multi-goal game this season in a  5-1 win in Tampa. Last month, he was named one of the NHL’s Three Stars of the Week for the first time in his career.

“It was definitely pretty special,” Nelson said about the nod to Newsday’s Andrew Gross a few weeks back on his weekly podcast. “I think that I’ve tried to strive for that consistency. It’s a pretty grueling year and you’re going to go through ups and downs. But you try to limit those low points and ride the wave as long as you can.”

Nelson has ridden that wave and the Islanders have been reaping the benefits.

Through 29 games, the Isles are 20-7-2, good enough for second in the Metropolitan Division. Nelson himself, is second on the team in points with 23 and goals with 11; the only player with more is star center Mathew Barzal with 26. At this current pace, the Warroad, MN native has the opportunity to hit the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career and establish a new career-high in points after recording 53 last season.

“Barry has instilled confidence in me to go out there and play a two-way game,” Nelson added. “Some of those things might not always be good on the scoresheet, but they’re helping the team win.”

Nelson has taken advantage of that spot — the number-two center role — he was bestowed with by Trotz before last season and found even more ways to contribute. Whether it’d be on the penalty kill, three-on-three in overtime, or on the power play, Nelson’s presence has turned him into one of the Islanders’ most reliable forwards.

“I haven’t asked him to do some of the things that were asked of him before,” Trotz said last month. “I didn’t think that was a part of his game, necessarily. So I just asked him to play to his strengths. He’s a very detailed guy. He’s got skill. He’s got range. You can trust him defensively, so we’re giving him a bigger piece of the pie.”

Another positive that’s transitioned with Nelson over from last season — chemistry with teammates.

Last year, it was fellow veteran Josh Bailey he played most of the year with. This season, Nelson has been slotted in the middle of Anthony Beauvillier and Derick Brassard most of the year and he’s thriving. Nelson and his French linemates have been arguably been the team’s best line all season long. And despite Brassard being flipped back to the third line, due in part to the Isles getting some healthy forwards back, Nelson and Beauvillier have continued their assault as one of the most underrated duos in the game. Nelson has also found something with fledgling sophomore Michael Dal Colle.

Brock is awesome to play with,” said Dal Colle earlier this season. “He’s always in the right areas. He’s great offensively and defensively. Playing with a guy like that makes it easier on me. He’s always in the right areas.

Since the beginning of last season, Nelson ranks second among Islander forwards for points with 76 points in 111 games. Those fantastic numbers just go to show that his play is only getting stronger. It also shows that it’s a far cry from a guy who, two years ago, experienced his worst season statistically since his rookie year in 2013-14. Nelson, because he’s relished the opportunity given to him, has become player the Islanders expected him to be when they drafted him 30th overall back in 2010.

“It’s definitely been nice,” Nelson said. “The role that I’m in now, you try to take advantage of it, play for as long as you can and produce at a high level.”

Overall Nelson has produced at that high level and it’s been apparent from how he looked last year till now. He’s still young enough to where his ascension may not have reached its peak yet. But the path he’s put himself on will only lead to more success for him and the Islanders in the future.

Follow me on Twitter at @RTaub_

 

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