Today our series moves on to a big-bodied forward who led the Islanders in goals this season.
Player: Brock Nelson
Size: 6’4, 212 pounds
Boxcar stats: 56 games played, 18 goals, 15 assists, 33 points, 14 penalty minutes
5v5 Fancy stats:
770 minutes in 2020-21, data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick
Corsi For%: 48.1%
Goals For to Goals Against: 29 to 27 (51.8 GF%, 2.26 GF/60 to 2.10 GA/60)
Scoring Chance%: 50.0%
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 53.5%
Three year WAR% chart and graph:
Brock Nelson is a player who drives strong results. He ended up in the 65th percentile of WAR this season, a slight drop from last year due to a bit of a fall on the defensive end, believe it or not.
Nelson has formed a very important line with Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey for the Islanders. The trio has combined for 27 goals in the last 30 games, since the fateful March 11th game where captain Anders Lee was lost for the season with a knee injury. This line has been on ice together for 14 Goals for at 5v5 compared to just five goals against since 3/11.
Nelson’s impact extends beyond points too — he was second on the Islanders with 707 faceoffs in 2020-21. NYI heavily leans on three centermen to take the majority of their draws (Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau  and Casey Cizikas ). Nelson was the worst of the three with a 49.4% faceoff winning percentage, but that’s basically breaking even.
He also can set the tone of a game and is also a player to watch early games. Nelson has scored the first goal of a game four times to lead NYI in that category this year.
Nelson isn’t used to kill penalties, but he is in many ways a vital and classic player who makes up a big part of the backbone of the team by being very well-rounded. Whether it’s scoring goals, setting up goals, getting defensive results, finishing or producing on the power play, he has impressive metrics in all areas over the past few seasons.
How the Penguins can stop him: It will be a matchup worth watching. The Mat Barzal - Jordan Eberle led first line will be seeing a ton of the Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang pair as the primary focus when these teams meet. This means it will fall mostly on the Penguins’ other defensemen to check and try to keep a strong NYI line at bay.
It will also be important to see which forwards play against the Nelson line. If the conventional wisdom holds it will be a lot of the Evgeni Malkin line going against the second best NYI line. Though Jeff Carter or even Teddy Blueger might be a smart matchup — especially the buzzsaw line if Pittsburgh can get that matchup.
Based on stats the Nelson line doesn’t control Corsi or a ton of territorial zone time, but they are excellent at creating high danger scoring chances (to the tune of 58.3% in the last 30 games) and finishing what they create. This might make the Malkin line a dangerous matchup for Pittsburgh if it is the Malkin group, because they’re basically the same. The Carter or Blueger line represents a more “strength on strength” matchup for the Pens that might make more sense on paper.
That will be a fun storyline to watch as to Mike Sullivan’s plan on matchups, because outside of Barzal and Eberle a lot will fall on the Nelson line’s shoulders to produce ES offense for New York. Especially since in modern NHL hockey, usually first lines and pairs spend the bulk on their time meeting one another. The real chess match begins with how the coaches play down the lineup. If Pittsburgh can limit the damage that Nelson can inflict, they will be in better shape in the bigger picture.