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Taub: Nelson Re-signing Solidifies Himself As The Future Second Line Center

It didn’t take long for New York Islanders President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello to get down to business with his busy club’s offseason already underway.

Lamoriello, knowing that his team still lacks depth at the center position in the organization, hammered out the first of hopefully a few important signings earlier today when he re-upped Brock Nelson for the next six years; Nelson’s new deal will have him making $6 million, a nice bump up from the $4.2 million he was averaging after he agreed to a one-year deal to avoid arbitration prior to this season.

For Nelson, the team, and considering what he would have received on the open market July 1, this is a very fair deal.

Nelson, 27, is coming off his most productive campaign since turning pro — 53 points in 82 games. The Warroad, Minnesota native’s overall performance this season was lightyears beyond what the Islanders and their fans had come to experience when watching him the past few years. Nelson had been thrashed for years by onlookers for his inconsistency and unwillingness to have more skin in the game, as his head coach Barry Trotz loves to say. This year though, Nelson really put his best foot forward and looked like a completely different player. He was more decisive, played with a more physical style, and was very effective in his two-way game.

Regarding Trotz, he’s one of the major reasons that Nelson decided to stay with the only team he’s ever played for.

“He believed in me right from day one and I felt very comfortable and confident with what Barry is trying to do,” Nelson told Cory Wright of newyorkislanders.com. “He’s a huge factor in that and coming back and that’s part of the [team] heading in the right direction.”

That keyword, “belief”, is another reason why the five-year veteran is going to be front and center as the linchpin behind the Isles top threat down the middle, Mathew Barzal.

It goes without saying that losing Nelson for nothing would have been a massive blow to what the foundation the Islanders are still building.

Examining the rest of the board of free agent centers, other than the unlikely possibility of signing superstar Matt Duchene and future Hall of Famer Joe Pavelski, the Islanders would have had slim pickings if Nelson had gone elsewhere. Kevin Hayes, Derick Brassard, Jason Spezza are some of the UFA centers out there that would have been quality adds, but with Trotz implying the Isles need more punch up front, it made all the more sense to keep Nelson in the fold.

Why it’s also crucial they brought Nelson back: the league continues to get younger and faster.

Look around the league, you won’t find many 27-year-old centers with Nelson’s size who has scored 20 or more goals four times in the last five seasons. Having that type of key piece in Nelson for the next half decade — he’s most likely going to continue to thrive in a Trotz’-like structure –makes his return that more important.

Now will see what else Lamoriello has up his sleeve to improve the team (Panarin, Skinner, cough, cough), but giving a player (Nelson) that amount of money means that he envisions him as the number two center, not number three.

Could the Isles stun everyone and entice Duchene to come? Sure. But as much as Isles fans want to fantasize that coming true, Nelson was not just handed that sum of money to be a number-three center, let alone play as a bottom-six forward. No, the expectation now is Nelson takes the 53-point campaign from this season and repeats it for the next six seasons. There’s no reason he can’t do that either. Nelson, is still a year away in terms of his age from the so-called “prime” for an NHL player, has 30-35 goal potential and showed this year he’s got a lot more skill and ability than people give him credit for.

With that all being said, getting Nelson locked up long-term not even four weeks after the season ended proves that Lamoriello wants to keep the core guys here; it also shows that Nelson wants to be here and believes in what the Islanders are building.

“You could wait it out, but this is the only place I’ve ever been,” Nelson told NHL.com’s Brian Compton. “It’s a great place to live, especially now with kids. We love it here and were very happy to be here another six years.”

It’s crazy to think that at this time a year ago, most Isles fans and writers saw Nelson as a question mark regarding his status with the franchise. Fast forward to today, Nelson is here for the long haul as a major piece that will hopefully make the Islanders a consistent contender in the coming years.

Now the focus shifts to getting captain Anders Lee and Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner re-signed; maybe Valtteri Filppula as well.

But if Nelson signing so quickly signals anything, it’s that Lamoriello isn’t messing around with who he believes are the guys who should be here to bring the Islanders back to glory.

Follow me on Twitter @RTaub_





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