Over the past two seasons, we've watched Brock Nelson evolve into a top-tier second-line center for the NY Islanders. Last season, he set career highs in goals (37) and points (59), leading the team in both categories. This season, though he is behind on his goal-scoring pace from last year, he's improved significantly in the assist category, projected to nearly double his total (22) from 2021-22. Through 67 games this season, he's already eclipsed his career-best point total from last year with 62 thus far.
Aside from potential Vezina Trophy winner Ilya Sorokin, the argument can be made that Nelson has been the Islander's most valuable player this season. Though Casey Cizikas and Hudson Fasching have proven invaluable lately, Nelson is the straw that stirs the drink.
Through the first half of the season, Nelson struggled with his consistency as he has throughout his tenure with the Islanders. Between mid-December and mid-January, Nelson came up one day shy of going an entire month without a goal. He notched his first goal in 14 games in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres, springboarding his season in the second half. Since that night in Buffalo on January 19, Nelson has registered 13 goals and 11 assists with a +9 rating (including a -4 night against Carolina). His most recent contribution was the game-winning goal in overtime against the Pittsburgh Penguins, topping off another comeback.
With Mat Barzal going down to injury, much of the weight of the offense has fallen on the shoulders of Nelson which he's bared without issue. Aside from taking on more responsibility in the offensive zone without Barzal, he's also picked up the slack in the defensive zone without JG Pageau. With Otto Koivula logging only 3:46 of ice time in Thursday's comeback against the Penguins, Nelson along with Bo Horvat, and Cizikas have bared the brunt of the minutes from the center position.
Before the Isles acquired Horvat during All-Star weekend, Nelson was looked at as the top performer in the offensive and defensive ends as far as top-6 forwards go. Since acquiring Horvat, the two have split duties as they've both been extremely valuable to the club in even strength and special teams situations.
As the Isles hold onto the top Wildcard position in the East, Nelson will continue to be the rutter that steers the Isles ship. The possible return of Pageau against the Washington Capitals will be another all-situation center for the Isles to lean on in their playoff push.