After a quiet summer, New York Islanders training camp opened with a bang.
Brock Nelson signed a three-year contract on training camp eve, Michael Grabner was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for five players and PTO invite Steve Bernier signed a one-year deal.
Nelson was unsigned with less than 12 hours until the start of camp, which is the Islanders internal contract cutoff. Had he not signed, he would have sat out the entire 2015-16 campaign. The two sides hammered out a deal at around 9:30 p.m., leaving enough time for the 23-year-old to report for morning physicals.
“It’s just all part of the process,” Nelson said. “There was a mutual relationship of wanting to be here. I feel wanted here. I’m ready to be back, happy to be back and ready to get going.”
Nelson scored 20 goals last season, his second full campaign with the Islanders. The Warroad, Minn., native also set career highs in assists (22), points (42) and games played. His teammates said he’s an important piece for the Islanders moving forward and were happy to see a deal was reached.
“We need Brock, he’s a huge part of our team,” John Tavares said. “He’s really a part of our core going forward; he’s still so young and has so much to accomplish and grow into. You see the potential there and obviously what he did for us last season.”
The deal keeps Nelson with the Islanders through the 2017-18 season, alongside a young core that includes close friends and fellow Minnesotans Nick Leddy and Anders Lee.
“I’m excited to be back,” Nelson said. “It’s a special group of guys here and it definitely plays into decision making.”
The addition of Nelson was offset by the departure of Grabner, who was traded for five Leafs prospects - Taylor Beck, Matthew Finn, Christopher Gibson, Tom Nilsson and Carter Verhaeghe.
Grabner played five seasons for the Islanders, scoring 90 goals and 54 assists with the club. The speedy, Austrian winger burst onto the scene with a 34-goal rookie season in 2010-11, but injuries limited him to 34 games last season. Grabner spoke with the media prior to the trade and said his focus was on staying healthy this season.
Grabner, the centerpiece of the deal, is a veteran of 317 NHL games. Beck is the only returning player with NHL experience, with 85 games – all with Nashville – under his belt.
Grabner’s departure did open the door for Bernier, who inked his contract shortly after. Bernier, 30, is coming off a 16-goal, 32-point season with the New Jersey Devils, his best season since 2008-09 and said he was confident in his abilities prior to signing his contract.
Bernier is very familiar with the Islanders, having played for a division rival for the past four seasons. He said the Islanders’ hard-hitting, grinding style fits into his game.
“I know the way they play,” Bernier said prior to finding out about his contract. “It’s exactly the way I like to play, a physical, north-south, simple game. For me, it’s just to have a strong camp, make a good impression and hopefully something good is going to happen.”
Bernier will hit the ice as an Islander for the first time tomorrow morning, as the on-ice portion of training camp begins.