Many Islanders fans had already turned off their televisions back in June 2010. Most of the ones who didn't were wondering why Kevin Connolly of Entourage fame was stepping up to the podium. And the majority of the rest were wondering who this kid from Minnesota was that the Islanders had just drafted.
Brock Nelson, the center whose name sounds more like a comic book character than it does a hockey player, was rated in the mid-20's by both NHL Central Scouting and ISS going into the draft. So when Nelson was still available at pick 30, Garth Snow made a move to trade back into the first round and make him an Islander.
Nelson didn't disappoint in 2011-12, leading the WCHA in goals while playing as a sophomore for the University of North Dakota. His play as a Fighting Sioux earned him a cup of coffee with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at year's end and a #12 ranking on LHH's Top 25 Islanders Under 25 (shameless plug). Now in his first full season at Bridgeport, Nelson is proving the Islanders made a wise move trading up to get him.
The scoring has followed him to the AHL, as Brock is tied for the Sound Tigers' lead in goals (7), assists (6), points (13), and power play goals (2) with fellow 2010 first round pick Nino Niederreiter (whose own saga we updated here).
Nelson has been most productive since the calendar turned November (which in Islanders Country is always a positive). In five November games, Nelson has scored a goal in each of the games, adding an assist in four of them.
He's also fired 24 shots on goal in those games, more than double what he did in 6 games in October. It's a sign that Brock is getting comfortable with the professional game.
While Nelson is second among AHL rookies in scoring, what may be most impressive in his short time in Bridgeport is Nelson's work on the defensive end.
Sound Tigers Head Coach Scott Pellerin has praised Nelson's two-way play, along with his ability to be put in all kinds of situations. Nelson has seen considerable time on the power play and penalty kill this season, at times single handedly eating up chunks of clock with his strong puck possession.
The most exciting part of Nelson's progression towards the NHL is the fact that for the first time in eons, the Islanders look very strong at the Center position. With John Tavares and Frans Nielsen already cemented with the club, and Nelson, fellow Sound Tiger Casey Cizikas, and former first rounder Ryan Strome waiting in the wings, the Isles look set in the faceoff circle for years to come.
Even when the NHL and NHLPA decide to stop playing chicken with each other and end this silly lockout, it'll be important to still keep one eye across the Sound. Nelson will most likely fall back a little offensively (he's shooting a robust 20% right now and seeing increased minutes with a rash of injuries in Bridgeport), but continued growth as a well rounded Center is what is most important.
If that continues, it is very likely that Nelson will find a home on the Island next season, and many seasons after that. While he may have started out as "the other guy" the Islanders drafted in the first round in 2010, Brock Nelson is proving to everyone that he will be key part of the Isles future assention in the NHL ranks.