Andy Graziano and I have begun our annual season review, taking a look back at the 2016-17 Islanders and analyzing each player's performance in a down season that saw the team miss the playoffs by one point.
We will be offering two reviews per week that will take us right through to the beginning of training camp in September. Of course, there are a couple of things to sort out prior, such as free agency and potential trades that could alter the look of this franchise going forward.
29 | Brock Nelson | Center
6-foot-3, 206 lbs
25 years old
Contract: $2.5 million cap hit, signed through 2017-18 (RFA)
Season: 81 GP, 20 G - 25 A - 45 Pts, 36 PIM, 173 Shots, 15:39 TOI, 45.2 Corsi
Career: 316 GP, 80 G - 73 A - 153 Pts, 102 PIM, 660 Shots, 15:26 TOI, 49.9 Corsi
A homegrown player who isn't 26 years old yet that already has three straight 20-goal seasons under his belt. Sounds like a player everyone would be in love with, right? Unfortunately for Nelson, that's not quite the case; he was inconsistent enough last season to prove some of his detractors' points.
It's clear Nelson had a ton of scoring talent. Even though he's a natural center, it sure seems like he's more comfortable playing a wing, where he can have someone else be the playmaker and he can just rip his lethal wrist shot. When he's skating with a purpose and forcing shots to the net, the puck seems to find the back of the twine.
But then there's that other side, the one who has a tendency to seem like he's on a pleasure skate. There are flaws with plus-minus as a statistic, but this stat stands out: Nelson was a plus-10 in the Isles' 40 wins, and a minus-13 in their 29 losses. That's quite the split, and it speak to what we anecdotally see with our eyes: when he's good, he's good. But when he's bad, yikes.
For years, Nelson has been grouped together with Ryan Strome and Anders Lee as "the kids" who need to grow in order for this team to succeed. With Strome now gone and Lee having developed into an elite winger, Nelson is really the only player the jury is still out on. Headed into a contract year, where despite his ups and downs, he'll likely command a rise, there couldn't be a better time for him to take a big leap forward.
IPB Grade: C. Nelson is probably the least-heralded 20-goal scorer in the league, and his play without the puck at times is the reason why. But if coach Doug Weight can find a way to get Nelson to find that hidden gear, it could make this team lethal up front.