Kevin SchultzNEWARK, NJ — Thursday night at the Prudential Center the Islanders racked up 69 penalty minutes and allowed the Devils ten powerplays in what was a sloppy and fight-filled game. The team spent nearly 20 minutes of the game, almost a full period, killing off minor penalties. While most of the special teams responsibilities for the forwards fell to the few NHL veterans in the lineup — Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen and Peter Regin — one name stood out as a young player the coaching staff seemed to really trust on the penalty kill; Brock Nelson.
Over the course of the night Nelson racked up nearly six minutes of short-handed ice time and was put out on what appeared to be the Islanders’ top penalty killing unit alongside veteran Frans Nielsen. Nielsen is lauded around the NHL for his defensive work and led the Islanders forwards in short-handed ice time per game for each of the past three seasons.
“Not really testing, I watched him play [on the penalty kill] last year quite a bit,” coach Jack Capuano responded when asked after the game if pairing the two players together was a test to see what Nelson could do or a sign of the coaching staff having confidence in his abilities.
“He’s a guy that he’s a big body, he sacrifices his body, he’s got a willingness to do what it takes on the PK and he’s pretty good on draws. I thought him and Fransy did a real good job tonight.”
With an injury to Cal Clutterbuck expected to make the forward miss the start of the regular season, there’s now an open spot on the Islanders third line. Clutterbuck is a solid penalty killer in his own right, so that open spot may come with a prerequisite background in penalty killing. It’s hard to tell if Nelson is being groomed to fill that role, but last night he certainly appeared capable and willing.
“I think anytime the coach is gonna put you on the penalty kill, you gotta make the most of the opportunity,” Nelson said following the game. The 21-year old wasn’t willing to say whether the role was a trial run or just how the lineup card shook out that day.
“It’s hard to say, but when you get your name called to go out there you just go out there and try to do your best and get the job done. I think the PK did a great job tonight and that was a big part of the win.”
But Nelson did think it was beneficial being paired with Nielsen.
“He’s a good teacher for us young guys. It’s fun to play with those guys in those critical situations and try to learn from them.”