On a night that saw five different Islanders total six goals, a case can be made for a non-goal-scorer being considered among the strongest players on the ice in a 6-4 victory over the Nashville Predators. Though he did not score, Brock Nelson had the primary assist on both of the Islanders second-period goals, played on both the penalty kill and power play, and had great chemistry with linemates Peter Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
“We had a good night,” Nelson said. “Our line was able to generate a lot of chances and I was happy with the way we played.”
None of the three players who formed the Islanders third line Friday played with the team in the 2012-13 regular season. In fact Nelson, just 21 years old, is the only player to have donned the Islanders sweater. After leading AHL Bridgeport with 52 points last season, the University of North Dakota product made his NHL debut in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Regardless of their unfamiliarity with each other, the three newcomers’ games have meshed into a formidable trio for the Islanders. After practicing together all week, Nelson, Regin, and Bouchard looked as if they’d been linemates for years.
“I think it really helped,” Nelson said of this week’s practices. “We went over a lot of things and became familiar with each other’s games. I think it really showed in the game and we were able to generate a lot of chances.”
Though he’s yet to play in a NHL regular season game, Nelson impressed his veteran linemates with his steady play throughout the night.
“He’s a great player and you saw that tonight,” Regin said. “We’ve actually been killing penalties a lot together but tonight was the first time in a game we’ve been on the same line. He’s easy to play with. He plays a simple game but he’s still a very skilled guy, so he’s fun to play with.”
Nelson’s first assist came after his pass found Colin McDonald right in front. McDonald didn’t get all of his stick on it, but did enough to beat Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne. Eight minutes later, Neslon wound up and blasted a slap shot through traffic from the blue line, which deflected off Matt Donovan and gave the Islanders a 5-1 lead.
“I just tried to get the puck through the screen,” Nelson said. “[Donovan] said it nicked off his jersey so give him credit for making a good play and going hard to the net.”
As Nelson has played more games with the Islanders and earned the trust of the coaching staff, he’s become more comfortable on the ice.
“I just tried to go out and play my game,” Nelson said. “I wasn’t worried about making mistakes or anything like that. That’s going to happen a lot in this game and most of the time, it’s how you bounce back from them. The coaches just told me to go out there and be confident and that was able to help me relax and have a good game.”
An injury to Cal Clutterbuck earlier in the preseason has opened up a spot on the Islanders roster, at least to start the season. With the Islanders preseason schedule coming to a close Sunday with split-squad games against the Ottawa Senators, Nelson has one more chance to prove he’s deserving of the position.
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