ON THE HORIZON: Brock Nelson, F, North Dakota

written by Alan Avital

When Garth Snow and his scouting department decided to trade the Islanders’ two
second round picks (35th and 58th selections overall) to move up to the end of the first round of the
2010 NHL Entry Draft to select six-foot-three center Brock Nelson (30th overall), they had a
vision in mind. Nelson’s collegiate coach Dave Hakstol believed that Snow’s move was bold at
the time, yet will prove to be a franchise-changer which will benefit the Islanders for years to
come.

“Brock has great skill and tremendous hockey sense,” said Hakstol, who is currently in
his eighth season as head coach of the North Dakota hockey team. “But what makes Brock
stand out from others is that when the game is on the line, he steps up and makes plays. Brock
is always a guy who rises to the occasion.”

Nelson, who is currently a sophomore in Grand Forks, believes his current and future
success stems from a family tree, rich in hockey experience and success.

“I have a great support system behind me, “said Nelson, whose three uncles have
played collegiate and professional hockey for the better part of six decades. “Moving forward,
my uncles will always be there to help me.”

Nelson’s great uncle, Gordon Christian played hockey at North Dakota from 1947-50,
and also won an Olympic silver medal for the United States in 1956. Uncle Eddie Christian,
lettered at UND from 1980-84, and Uncle Dave Christian, played at UND from 1977-79. Dave
won an Olympic gold medal with the fame “Miracle on Ice” in 1980, before playing over 1,000
games in the NHL with Winnipeg, Washington, Boston, St. Louis and Boston. He ended his NHL
career with 340 goals and 433 assists, and was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of
Fame in 2001.

Prior to entrance at North Dakota, Nelson amassed 149 points – 84 goals and 65 assists -
in his final two seasons at Warroad (MN) High School. As a senior, Nelson scored 39 goals and
had 74 points in 25 games and was named a finalist for Mr. Minnesota. Ironically, the award
was won by Blaine High School’s Nick Bjugstad, who was selected 11 picks earlier than Nelson
by the Florida Panthers.

According to Nelson, playing at Warroad was a tremendous building block for future
achievements.

“Playing at Warroad was awesome,” said Nelson. “Warroad is a town of 1,700 people, and everyone here supports hockey. It was a great experience.”

Besides uncles Dave and Eddie Christian, who starred at Warroad, Nelson watched
current St. Louis Blue T.J. Oshie lead Warroad to two Minnesota State Class A titles in 2003 and
2005 before trekking down the 145 miles to Grand Forks to play for Hakstol and the Fighting
Sioux for three seasons, scoring 142 points in 128 games – 59 goals and 83 assists.

Nelson finished his 2009-10 hockey season, scoring 16 goals and assisting on 16 others
for Team Great Plains – a Minnesota High School select team.

As a freshman at North Dakota, Nelson had 21 points – eight goals and 13 assists in 42
games, but it was his maturity level which drew the praises of Hakstol.

“It is a very tough transition going from playing high school to college hockey. Even
coming from a great, competitive high school program, like Warroad,” said Hakstol. “But Brock
handled everything very well. He is a very mature kid, but by the second half of the year, things
started to come a little bit easier for him.”

On a deep team, which reached the NCAA Final Four, Nelson predominantly played as a
second and third line center.

“There were no expectations from Coach (Hakstol),” said Nelson, who was the recipient
of UND’s Tom Hoghaug Memorial Scholarship, awarded annually to the freshman who
demonstrates initiative, character and a sense of responsibility. “I was just looking to develop
as a player and become bigger and skate faster.”

Nelson concluded his freshman year as a member of the United States World Junior
Championship Team. He had an assist in five games, before suffering an A.C. bruise to his
shoulder, ending his tournament.

The experience was invaluable, according to Nelson.

“It was an awesome experience to be part of the junior team,” said
Nelson. “Unbelievable. It also gave me an opportunity to work on my game, heading into my
sophomore season.”

Despite his team’s current struggles – 3-6-1 overall, 1-5 in WCHA conference – Nelson
leads the Fighting Sioux in goals with five and is third on the team in points with nine.

“Brock is a key part of our young team,” said Hakstol of his 19-year old center. “This
year, he’s not just one of the guys. He has to shoulder the load in and out of the locker.

“While he is a quiet leader, he definitely gives our younger players a base of knowledge
on what to expect and the resources to handle all ups and downs of playing college hockey.”

With an eye towards the NHL, Nelson is confident on what he needs to work on and on
what he can build on.

“My strengths are definitely my hockey knowledge,” said Nelson, who patterns his game
after Los Angeles King forward Anze Kopitar, based on his responsibility on both ends of the ice
and his ability to score in the clutch. “I definitely would love to become a quicker player, and
become more physical.”

Since his arrival at North Dakota, Nelson has gained upwards of 15 pounds, and hopes
to add 10-to-15 more pounds of muscle before heading onto the pro level.

Hakstol believes Nelson’s transition to the pro game should be seamless.

“In my opinion, I believe Brock is a three-year college player,” said Hakstol. “I’m not one
for predictions, but he is a top-6 player on the next level.

“Similar to (Zach) Parise, (Travis) Zajac and (Jonathon) Toews, Brock will have a
significant role on the NHL level.”

Nelson had the opportunity to play in front of his future professional fans this summer
at the Islanders’ Blue-White scrimmage, and relished every moment.

“There are a lot of die-hard fans there,” said Nelson of the Islander fans. “It will be really
good to build with the other younger players, and in a few years, we could be a great team.”

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