The New York Islanders being disrespected and underappreciated by the national media is nothing new. They are routinely cast as a boring team that plays a slog-fest style of hockey that no one appreciates. If you're a fan of the team, you've come to expect it and hope the coaches and players use it as bulletin board material as a way to prove people and prognosticators wrong once again.
However, the latest ESPN Fantasy Hockey projections for the 2023-24 season went too far. It has Brock Nelson, that's All-Star Brock Nelson, accuracy shot champion Brock Nelson, 73 goals in the last two seasons Brock Nelson projected for just 26 goals and 23 assists next season.
That's 49 points. That's ridiculously low.
The 31-year-old has improved with age in the last few seasons, adding dimensions to his game and improving on his already strong goal-scorer skill set. For instance, we saw him one-time cross-ice passes better than he ever had last year. He set a career-high in points with 75 in 82 games (36G, 39A) after scoring 37 goals in 72 games the prior season.
Nelson surpassed the 49-point projection with 54 points in just 68 games during the 2019-20 season and was an 82-game pace to eclipse the 50-point mark during the shortened 56-game 2021 season too. That's why seeing just 49 points makes no sense.
Are the projections factoring in his linemates being Kyle Palmieri and Pierre Engvall? If so, then Islanders fans would be quick to point out that the line was one of the best in the league down the stretch of the season. The line's chemistry is one of the reasons why Nelson could reach the 70 point mark for the second consecutive year.
Looking at some other projections, Bo Horvat is slated for 70 points, the same number he accumulated with the Vancouver Canucks and Islanders combined in 79 games. Meanwhile, Mathew Barzal, expected to play alongside Horvat on the wing, is projected for 64 points in 72 games. Barzal missed some time in 2021-22 before sustaining his regular-season-ending knee injury in February. Before that, he had been close to an ironman for the Islanders throughout his career. If he stays healthy, the Islanders could have two 70-point players on their top line.
There are obviously bigger things to get worked up about than fantasy projections, but it's hard to understand how a writer or even artificial intelligence would expect Nelson to take such a big step back after such consistency displayed over recent seasons.