The career paths and trajectories of both Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson show that Nelson is poised for a breakout year for the New York Islanders.
It took several years for Josh Bailey to find his footing with the New York Islanders, but he has become one of the NHL’s top playmakers. Nelson brings a very different style of game, but the similarities between the two should give hope for a big year.
They are similar players, with Brock Nelson two years younger. Both players were first-round draft picks (Bailey 2008, Nelson 2010), drafted as centers, though Nelson has yet to make the move over to wing as Bailey did. That should change this year.
Both are tall, finesse, offensively gifted players who play positional, if not apathetic defense. And they hear about it from fans as career minus players, with Bailey the Isles fans’ favorite player to hate until Nelson came along.
Each player had early career success but plateaued instead of progressing.
Bailey had 35 points in his second season but it took him 4 more seasons to match that total again. Nelson has been steadily hovering around 40 points since joining the big club, but not increasing as you’d hope.
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Reason to Believe
It’s not all negative. Each of them is durable, averaging over 70 games played per year. Nelson has 99 combined goals in his first 5 seasons. Josh Bailey has broken through, having just had 56 and 71-point seasons, including an All-Star honor.
Some players simply take longer to gain confidence in the NHL, notably those that carry a quiet on-ice demeanor that lacks any outward passion or fire.
Bailey went into the 2016-17 season as a 26-year-old with eight NHL seasons under his belt. He found a steady home alongside a playmaking center, with a shoot-first winger on the other side, and he flourished.
The combination of the right pairings and experience gave Bailey the confidence to match the skill that made him the 9th overall pick in 2008.
Why Nelson Will Be Even Better
Nelson is now entering the 2018-19 season at the same 26 years old, and with five years of NHL experience. If Bailey’s path is the lead, Nelson will see a huge bump in production this season.
Comparing the five seasons prior to their breakout seasons (assuming Brock’s happens in 2018-19), his stats are better than Bailey’s, averaging 37.6 points per year vs 32.4 for Bailey over the five seasons prior to their 26-year-old season.
And he has done that while playing predominantly on the third line with a rotating door of bottom-six players like Ladd, Fritz, Prince, Ho-Sang, Clutterbuck, Wagner, Dal Colle, and Quine.
If Barry Trotz can find a way to move Nelson to the wing and pair him with playmakers, there is no reason to believe that he won’t be a 50-point player. Nelson is not an NHL center, but he can find the back of the net.
Nobody knows how the surplus of bottom six forwards will end up, but it’s no secret that Trotz likes to spread out his talent across several lines.
A second line of Nelson (LW), Beauvillier (C) and Bailey (RW) would give him playmakers who can feed him and play with speed, allowing him to not be forced to dictate pace but rather find space that others create for him.
So, let’s see how it plays out, but don’t be surprised if this time next year we’re talking about the steal that the Islanders got as they ink a team-friendly multi-year contract with Brock Nelson in advance of his arbitration hearing.