One of the few bright spots for the New York Islanders in the 2021-22 season came from Brock Nelson. The Warroad, Minnesota native finished the season having a career year in both goals (37) and points (59) in his ninth NHL season. Nelson's 37 goals put him in a four-way tie for the NHL's 20th best shooter, with Sebastian Aho, Roope Hintz, and Troy Terry. However, among all skaters who scored 30 or more goals last season, Nelson was the most efficient at putting the puck in the back of the net.
According to Hockey Reference by Stathead, Nelson's 21.6 shooting percentage was the best shooting percentage in the 2021-22 season among all skaters who scored 30 or more goals. That list includes Chris Kreider (52 goals), Leon Draisaitl (55 goals), Auston Matthews (60 goals), and others among the best in the business at filling the net. Nelson also tied Mathew Barzal for the Islanders team lead in points with 59.
Nelson has solidified himself as one of the NHL's best second-line centers and ranks just outside of the top-50 centers according to a fan vote conducted by JFresh, although there's an argument to be made that he should have appeared even higher on that list.
The rumor mill seems to be churning faster these days with whispers that the Islanders and Nazem Kadri have already come to terms on a new contract. Again, they're just rumors, but maybe where there's smoke there is fire. The long-standing question regarding the rumor that has been about since the start of free agency is where exactly Kadri would fit as a center when the Islanders are deep in that position.
Barzal and Nelson have been spoken about as the two prime candidates to move out of position if a Kadri acquisition were to come to fruition. So what if the Islanders solve their scoring winger problem internally planting the NHL's most efficient goal scorer in 2021-22 next to one of the NHL's best distributors in Barzal?
Barzal's ability to distribute the puck projects him to be one of 2022-23's best primary assist distributors, 17th overall in the top 20 with a 0.89 5v5 primary assists per 60 minutes. It seems like the right idea and maybe even the natural idea to put the Islanders' best goal scorer on the wing of their best distributor, maximizing both Barzal and Nelson's potential. Nelson's 37-goal season was no fluke, and in fact, if he didn't miss 10 games in the regular season, his goal-scoring pace for 2021-22 was about 42 goals.
With the carousel of line-mates Barzal saw last season, his ability to build chemistry was hindered and thus his offensive output was not as high as anticipated. If Kadri truly is the Islanders' big move this offseason, it makes sense to pair Barzal and Nelson together and let them go to work doing what they do best. A Barzal-Nelson duo has the potential to find the back of the net plenty next season giving the Islanders the first line and elite scoring threat they've been chasing for seasons on end.