Brock Nelson continues to prove his value to the NY Islanders
There was a time before Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz came to Long Island in 2018 that the thought of Brock Nelson being listed as amongst the surest things heading into a season would be far-fetched. But the once consistently inconsistent forward emerged as a reliable source of offense over the last four seasons and a rock for Trotz's roster.
"He's gotten better and better every year. He doesn't think about scoring. He thinks about winning, so whatever his statistics are ... it's just the wins and when you get the points"- Lou Lamoriello on Brock Nelson
Nelson's numbers never were bad - they were actually pretty good, but there were long stretches of each season where the 2010 1st overall pick (30th overall) disappeared, even being described as a 'ghost' by frustrated fans that became exasperated by games where his presence was invisible.
The year prior to Lamoriello coming in as President of Hockey Operations and hiring Trotz as head coach, Nelson was wrapping up the final year of a three-year $8.475 million deal that would keep him as Restricted Free Agent (RFA) with arbitration rights.
Back in 2017, when forecasting Nelson's next contract, EOI's Michel Andersen wrote, "With the70% effort Nelson seems to give, he still puts up 40-45 points a season. If he could put that extra 30% into his craft, we might have a 60-point player on our hands."
The 2017-18 was a difficult one for Nelson. As Mathew Barzal jumped onto the scene, he was bumped down to the team's 3C position, playing much of the season with Andrew Ladd and Tanner Fritz as his line-mates. He finished with 19 goals and 16 assists, the lowest point production since his rookie year for an Islanders team that finished eight in the league in goals scored.
The Islanders recently signed bridge contracts with Mathew Barzal before the start of last season and Noah Dobson to a three-year and $12M this month contract that brings each player to a similar point. The expectation is that each will prove themselves worthy of a lucrative long-term extension.
But when Nelson's deal came up, and a new GM came in, there was still further evaluation required. The two sides were not close to an extension, and he remained the team's last RFA with arbitration looming. Rather than earn a multi-year contract, Nelson signed a 1-year $4.25M "prove it" deal.
He responded with a career-high 53 points (25 goals, 28 assists), but more importantly, he put a lid on the 'ghost' narrative. He was present, he was physical, and he was always involved. There were no longer games where you had to think whether the play-by-play announcers called Nelson's name.
“In the past, people in the organization could tell you better, but I don’t think there was enough appreciation for his game,” Trotz said during the 2018-19 season. “They wanted him to be something he wasn’t in that third hole. We played them a few times a year, in the playoffs, I always thought there was a better player in there."
Early in May of the following off-season, shortly after the Islanders were swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Nelson signed a six-year contract extension and has been proving he's been worth it ever since.
He's maintained his play since that first season under Trotz and last season scored a career-high 37 goals in 72 games, showing that perhaps there is even a better player in there than the one Trotz and his staff helped shape in recent years.
The Brock Nelson turnaround is a prototype for Lamoriello's 'compete with ourselves' mentality heading into 2022-23. The roster as a whole will need to prove their value is greater than what was on display last season.