Nelson entered the lineup for Game 6 of the Islanders' series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, after the Warroad, Minn., native had an impressive pro debut season with their AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Nelson's appearance was something of a surprise. It was thought he would replace Frans Nielsen if the Danish Islanders center couldn't recover from an injury suffered in Game 5. But Nielsen was good to go, and Nelson appeared too. He replaced Finnish winger Jesse Joensuu in the lineup.
The Islanders eased Nelson in carefully, playing the natural center on wing with former Sound Tigers teammate Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin. He played an average of four shifts per period and 7:44 overall ice time through regulation.
Nelson appeared to get a brief appearance on the second power play unit too, though NHL sheets didn't reflect that. He was minus-1 through regulation, on the ice but not to blame for Pascal Dupuis' second-period goal.
Christian Arnold had this from Nelson after the morning skate, after it became clear Nelson was likely to get his debut:
"It’s a lot of mixed emotions. It’s a big time of the year," Nelson said. "This is when you want to be playing hockey. A lot of excitement and I’m just trying to take it all in. I’m Just not worry about the big picture and just take it in little details one at a time."
The Islanders traded up at the 2010 draft to acquire Nelson, giving the then-Stanley Cup-winning champion Chicago Blackhawks the 35th and 58th overall selections for the Hawks' 30th overall selection, the final slot of the first round.
After two years at the University of North Dakota and a full year in Bridgeport, Nelson thus far looks to have a bright future. It starts now.