Christian Arnold, Islanders Point Blank:Going into the 2014-15 season, the Islanders are once again in a position to have to find someone to play the wing on the top line.
It seems that the predicament of having to find a player to fill that role has become a new tradition with the team. The Islanders have options going into training camp, but team management seems likely to give breakout rookie Brock Nelson a shot at the job.
And the 22-year-old deserves the opportunity.
Nelson had a very good 2013-14 season. The former first-round draft pick made the team out of training camp over Ryan Strome, which some fans did not agree with. However, Nelson proved the doubters wrong by recording 26 points (14 goals, 12 assists) in 72 games.
The rookie even earned time on the top line playing on the wing after Thomas Vanek was injured shortly after arriving on Long Island. Nelson re-emerged on the Isles’ top line as a center after John Tavares’ season ended early due to an injury suffered during the Olympics.
The Minnesota native preformed admirable during those stints on the top line and his teammates took notice. Tavares and Kyle Okposo both praised him during the team’s breakup day in April. Okposo even went as far to say that Nelson reminded him of Patrice Bergeron.
Having already played, and performed well, on the Islanders’ top line should be all that Jack Capuano needs to at least start Nelson there going into camp. His 2013-14 stats and the praise from his teammates only bolster his case.
Nelson has proven he is a smart hockey player, who uses his size to his advantage. He knows how to make plays happen and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Nelson’s goal production wouldn’t benefit from playing with Tavares.
He could easily be a 20-plus-goal scorer next season and see an increase in his point production.
Standing at 6-foot-3, Nelson definitely has the makings of a centerman, but luckily he does not have a preference of playing center or wing.
“That’s been a popular question, but I feel pretty confident and comfortable at both positions,” Nelson told NHL.com earlier this month. “I think the only thing you think a little differently is maybe [at] center you’re a little more responsible defensively, but I think that’s something that I’ve tried to incorporate into my game no matter where I’m at.”
The additional advantage to placing Nelson on the top line is that it could end the yearly tradition of having to find a new winger for Tavares. If Nelson, Tavares and Okposo form a strong bond it would create stability on that line, rather than continuing the endless shuffling that has seemed to take place over the last few years.
Nelson has earned the opportunity to be on the top line and he is poised for another strong season with the Islanders.