Brock Nelson Just Continues to Get Better and Better for the NY Islanders

The dependable two-way center is securing himself a tremendous legacy in Islanders' history with the way he has mitigated the loss of John Tavares.

Brock Nelson has been the rare professional athlete to actually improve his game into his 30s, an extremely welcome turn of events for the Islanders.
Brock Nelson has been the rare professional athlete to actually improve his game into his 30s, an extremely welcome turn of events for the Islanders. / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
1 of 2

When the NY Islanders drafted Brock Nelson 30th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, his media photo caused a stir. With his white Islanders jersey, wide smile, and arms out wide, fans deemed Brock "the Reverend." Over the past few seasons, "the Reverend" has certainly answered the prayers of the Islanders and their fans with his terrific and continually improving play on the ice.

After John Tavares spurned the Islanders and left for Toronto in July 2018, Nelson was inserted as the Isles' second-line center. The conventional wisdom was that Nelson, who had largely been playing out of position on the wing or as a checking-line center, was likely to be traded if the Isles resigned Tavares. Instead, when Tavares departed, Nelson was part of the replacement plan.

The initial feeling for Islanders fans in the summer of 2018 was that Tavares leaving the Island was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. However, it turns out that Tavares left a lot of room for other players to break out. Players like Anders Lee and Mathew Barzal remained top-of-the-lineup contributors, and Josh Bailey remained a dependable two-way player and playoff hero.

Praise Be to "the Reverend," Brock Nelson.
Praise Be to "the Reverend," Brock Nelson. / Harry How/GettyImages

But nobody benefitted from this change more than Brock Nelson. With Tavares gone and Barzal cemented as the first-line center for the 2018-19 season, the second-line center role was all Brock's. And The Reverend delivered. In 82 games, Nelson scored 25 goals, added 28 assists for a total of 53 points, and earned the complete trust of Barry Trotz and the Isles' coaching staff.

“Before you tell me what you feel about your game, from an outsider, you look like a guy who can put up points and make plays,” Trotz said he told Nelson. “I see your skill level. You look uncomfortable in the role that you were in last year as a third-line center, and I think you can play higher in the lineup.” Trotz further maintained that, as coach of the Caps, he'd always held Nelson in high regard.

As the years have gone on, Nelson has continued to simply get better and better every season. This improvement has culminated in back-to-back seasons of 37 and 36 goals, respectively. Nelson has managed to become a more consistent, dependable center as well. For example, over the last five seasons, Nelson's faceoff percentage is 49.5%. For his career, it is 47.6%.

I believe Nelson has been the Islanders' best forward over the past five years. Last season, Nelson led all Isles' forwards with a 2.9 even strength expected goals rating. For what it's worth, Tavares was at 2.1. Now consider that Tavares comes with an $11.5M cap hit and defensive concerns, while Nelson is continually improving his two-way game while making $6M per year under the cap.

In pro sports, it's common for the talking heads to speculate about players' futures, particularly once they hit the dreaded "30." A study from Simon Fraser University asserted that the average forward reaches their prime between ages 27 and 28. Brock Nelson is proving to be quite the exception.

Since the start of the 2021-22 season, after he turned 30, Nelson's 77 goals in 162 games is tied for 19th in the NHL with Alex DeBrincat and Roope Hintz, right behind names like Guentzel, MacKinnon, Kempe, Stamkos, Nylander, and Point, and directly in front of names like Meier, Pettersson, Hughes, and Aho. His ascension into an elite goal scorer has been a welcome development for the Islanders in particular, since they are already an offensively-challenged hockey club. Without Nelson these past few years, the team would have been lost.

In Islanders history, Nelson currently ranks: 8th in games played, 8th in goals, 20th in assists, and 14th in points. Additionally, in the playoffs, Nelson has the 9th-most goals in franchise history, with these eight names in front of him: Bossy, Trottier, Potvin, Gillies, Nystrom, Bourne, Goring, and Tonelli. With one more year on his contract after this one, Nelson still has time to rise on these lists and further secure his legacy as an all-time great Islander.

When all is said and done, I believe Brock Nelson will be remembered as one of the best Islanders in post-dynasty Islanders history. His dependable two-way play, ascension into an elite goal-scorer, and clutch play during the postseason have been the keys to Nelson unlocking his potential and mitigating the loss of John Tavares, which ultimately might be the sweetest part of his legacy for Isles fans.