Every week of the 2018-19 season, our Rob Taub will discuss one player from the Islanders to look out for. Whether it’s past performances, certain matchups, or something about that player that makes worth spotlighting, each article will describe why they are being featured. Also — if one or two players, or the team is coming off a good week — there will be multiple spotlights.
With only two games played so far — and two games in only six nights this week — it’s a little difficult to breakdown the Islanders so far. But the one player that has had a surprise start. is Brock Nelson.
Nelson, all though a small sample size, has been noticeable the first two contests in his natural position — as a center ice man.
Before the season started, the Warroad, MN native was signed to a one-year deal worth $4.25 million. Essentially with former captain and number one center John Tavares now departed, and a second-line center spot up for grabs, Nelson found himself with a big opportunity to prove to himself and the organization he needs to be one of their key pieces moving forward.
“Every player wants to do more, contribute more, get a chance to play as much as you can,” Nelson said to The Athletic back in July. With Johnny gone, there’s some pathways opened up to do that, for me and some other guys.”
Last year was Nelson’s worst statistical season as a pro with just 35 points in 82 games. His 19 goals were the least he’s scored in his tenure with the team after tucking away 20 or more goals his first three seasons. What also plagued the 26-year old last year — and most of his time with the Isles — is consistency. Nelson has become notorious for going on a heater for a few games or a week and then go ice cold to the point you almost forget he’s on the ice.
That inconsistency not only has been a disservice to himself, but the fans and the team.
So this year, in a prove it to get paid situation from the new regime, Nelson is probably the most important player on the team next to Mathew Barzal.
“I think that Brock is the natural gut to go to there,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz told Newsday back in late September. “He has the ability, he has the experience in the league, now it’s up to him to go up there.”
“He’s got the size, he’s got the skill set. I know he can be a real good player and being a good player is being able to play heavy minutes against good people in tough situations.”
Through the first two games, Nelson has shown some more aggressiveness and crafty hands.
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) October 5, 2018
He was arguably one of the best forwards on the ice last Thursday in the season opener in Carolina. Though the team as a whole didn’t generate much offense, Nelson — who saw 17:24 of ice time and recorded an assist on Valtteri Filppula’s goal — was very noticeable in his play with and without the puck. His backcheck late in the game to stop a scoring chance, before Carolina eventually tied it, was the best play he made all night. The center didn’t find the score sheet Saturday, but he made a fantastic move around Predators all-world defenseman P.K. Subban that resulted in a scoring chance that was denied by Juuse Saros.
— Eyes on Isles (@eyesonislesFS) October 7, 2018
Islanders fans have seen this type of play from Nelson early in seasons (Josh Ho-Sang anyone?) before he returns to his invisible act, so many are still skeptical as to whether he will be like the player we’ve seen in the early going. With another talented defensive team in the San Jose Sharks and the Predators again as the two opponents this week, Nelson having success will put the Isles in hopefully translate to wins and better play.
He’ll be getting his moneys worth having to try to overcome Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, three of the best d-men in the league. It doesn’t get any easier having to face off with Subban, Roman Josi, and the vaunted Preds blueline for the second time in a week. Also look for Nelson and his two linemates, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle, to be a little bit more in sync after having a suitable performance in Saturday’s loss to Nashville.
Nelson will also have to keep up his success in the faceoff circle. Through the first two games he’s won 15 of his 31 draws taken.
So with this needing to be a huge year for Nelson, and him getting off to a good start, having another productive two games this week will further Nelson’s case that he’s going to be a big contributor all season long.