Islanders Nelson is Hitting on Potential by Becoming an All-Star
Brock Nelson was recently named an All-Star and will represent the New York Islanders in the 2023 All-Star Game in Florida. Ilya Sorokin could also have been selected as one of the best goaltenders in the league, while Mathew Barzal, who leads the team with 41 points (11 goals and 30 assists), might also have received a nomination. That said, Nelson has made his mark and is arguably the most impactful on the Islanders’ roster.
After scoring a team-high 37 goals and 22 assists last season, Nelson has 15 goals and 23 assists through 41 games in 2022-23. Additionally, his 3.1 offensive point shares lead the team and put him on pace for a career-high in the category.
This is Nelson’s first All-Star nomination of his career at 31 years old. Most players start to decline at 30, but he is experiencing his best seasons, starting with last season’s breakout campaign. Not only is Nelson aging gracefully, but he is transforming into an elite player. He’s always been one of the Islanders’ best skaters, but he is now becoming one of the best centers in the NHL.
Nelson is Optimizing His Shot
Nelson is shooting the puck more and is picking apart goaltenders with his accuracy and shot selection. His 117 shots are tied with Anders Lee for the most on the team, and those shots have paid off, as the two have combined for 29 goals. However, unlike Lee, who often takes his shots from the slot or near the crease, Nelson puts the puck on the net throughout the offensive zone.
Moreover, Nelson is becoming a more effective shooter. His shooting percentage this season is 12.8 compared to last season’s 21.6, which was the best in his career. Along with finding open looks and shooting the puck, he is methodically attacking goaltenders with shots to the corners or with speed when the goalie is out of position. In a four-game stretch when he scored five goals, including two in the Oct. 28, 6-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, he found open looks but particularly elevated the puck to find the back of the net.
Nelson Has Rounded Out His Game
Along with optimizing his shot, Nelson has refined his offensive skills to make him an elite goal scorer. He’s leading the Islanders’ rushes and setting up the offense, but when he doesn’t have the puck, he’ll find open ice in the offensive zone. His scoring instincts continue to improve, and similarly, his playmaking ability and puck-handling skills have been perfected, making him tough to stop. Nelson has used his age and experience to his advantage, and it’s made him a better player with each season, culminating in an All-Star selection in his 10th season in the league.
Nelson’s greatest impact is as a scorer. However, he has become an excellent passer. His vision and ability to quickly move the puck have made him one of the best playmakers on the team and a well-rounded forward. He played a pivotal role in a three-game winning stretch, with four assists, including two in a 5-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
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In addition to his offensive production, he has also stepped up as a defensive forward. He controls the center of the ice and limits opponents from finding passing lanes and effective shots on net. Moreover, his skating ability helps limit open shots off the rush and allows him to create turnovers on the backcheck. Nelson’s 1.1 defensive point shares are second among the team’s forwards, behind Barzal. Centering the top line, he often faces the opposition’s top skaters, and he has risen to the challenge and helped out the defense.
Islanders Putting Him in Favorable Situations
In the second half of last season, the Islanders moved Nelson, Lee, and Anthony Beauvillier to the same line. With two of the team’s scorers on the same line without a puck distributor (like Barzal or Josh Bailey), it seems like the move would fail. However, the line has transformed Nelson and has been the best thing to happen to him. Since the 2022 All-Star break, he’s scored 38 goals, and playing alongside Lee has allowed him to set up scoring chances for an elite goal scorer and find the back of the net himself.
Lane Lambert was hired to be head coach this offseason, and he has placed a stronger emphasis on offense. The Islanders are playing a faster game this season, and the defensemen are joining the rushes and playing a bigger role on offense. Lambert’s new system has allowed Nelson to take advantage of his speed and ability to create in space.
What’s Next for Nelson?
Nelson has hit his stride and is in the prime of his career. For the veteran center, the hope is that he can finish his career with the Islanders strong. If he maintains a steady production rate, he should end his career as an iconic member of the organization, something the Islanders haven’t had in decades.
With Nelson leading the way, hopefully, the team can take the next step and win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1983. They came close in 2020 and 2021, losing in the semifinal in both years to the Tampa Bay Lightning. So far, they are putting together a promising season in 2022-23, and Nelson is being recognized as a big part of it.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.