By now, Brock Nelson should feel comfortable in all areas of the game that don’t come with goalie pads.
Nelson, the Islanders’ long, lean goal scorer, has proven himself to be one of the most versatile pieces in Jack Capuano’s lineup. Of course, with great versatility comes great responsibility. Nelson came into the league as a center and played a majority of his first two seasons as a pivot, but has spent most of his season on the wing.
“There were a couple of games where I played left and right,” Nelson said. “I don’t think it really matters. I think I’ve played with everybody in [the locker room]. Everybody is going to be in the right spots, as much as they can, they are going to make plays. The key is just find open ice, create open ice for yourself and go to scoring areas.”
Nelson has gone where’s needed in first half of the season, spending time on John Tavares’ left wing, Mikhail Grabovski’s right and seemingly everywhere in between. Not that it’s fazed Nelson, who is a cerebral player. Even though playing the right side was a departure for the left-handed Nelson, he’s utilized the advantage of having his forehand being in the middle of the ice, offering more chances to shoot in the slot off the rush.
Halfway through the season, Nelson is tied for second on the Islanders with 14 goals, putting him on pace to surpass his 20 from last season. Anders Lee, who is a close friend of Nelson’s, said his teammates know he’s one of the guys to dish the puck to when he’s on the ice.
“He’s always been able to score goals and right now he’s playing really good hockey,” Lee said. “He’s Shooting the puck just so well, placing it well and making goalies miss. Anytime we have a guy like that on our team we want to get him the puck as much as possible.”
Nelson scored the Islanders' lone goal vs. the Washington Capitals on Thursday, but even when he’s not scoring, he is using his 6’3, 206 lbs. frame to get to the front of the net and take away the goalie’s eyes, racking up assists that don’t officially make it onto the score sheet. Defensively, he can help clear the front of his own net and has learned the subtleties of playing along the boards. That being said, the play down low in the defensive end is where the lines get blurred between center and wing, but a versatile player like Nelson can read and react to the fluidity in front of him
“The real difference is in the defensive zone and even there you have to switch and sometimes end up down low in the center,” Nelson said. “You have to be ready to play all three and have an awareness of all three.”
Nelson has that awareness and after moving around in the first half of the season, has the experience to play – and score – wherever he’s needed.