The Islanders returned from a less-than-successful four-game road trip knowing they need some long-term fixes, most notably in goal production from their top-six forwards.
Since the start of training camp, as the team worked to fill the spot vacated by former captain John Tavares, it’s been clear that new coach Barry Trotz considers Brock Nelson — a third-line center for long stretches under past administrations — a core part among the team’s top two lines.
Nelson had the lone goal and a team-high seven shots in Saturday night’s 4-1 loss to the Sharks as the Islanders concluded a 1-3 road trip. He and captain Anders Lee have been consistent linemates, with Josh Bailey now on the right wing.
The Islanders, who were off Sunday after traveling back to New York, next play the Panthers on Wednesday night at Barclays Center before starting another three-game road trip Saturday in Philadelphia.
When asked if the playing time among the top six feels different from past seasons, when he was unable to secure that role, Nelson replied, “Not really. Maybe just a mindset of trying to go out there and be consistent and elevate. With Johnny gone, it opened up some space. I’m just trying to take advantage of different areas where there are opportunities.”
Nelson, the 30th overall pick in 2010, had three straight 20-goal seasons from 2014-17 before compiling 19 goals and 16 assists in 82 games last season. He’s been durable — missing only two games the past four seasons — but never consistent enough to permanently crack the top six.
The Islanders’ top forwards have struggled to produce at even strength, but Nelson’s line has consistently produced the most scoring chances.
“With the changes over the summer, there was some opportunity to be had with ice time and different things,” Nelson said, referring to Tavares’ exit and the addition of Trotz and president/general manager Lou Lamoriello to the Islanders’ organization. “I thought camp was pretty good. I talked to Barry a couple of times about what he saw, different fits and whatnot, so I tried to elevate my game and I’m still trying to do that.”
Nelson also is playing for his next contract. He and the team did not agree on a longer-term deal in the offseason, when Nelson was a restricted free agent, so the sides settled on a one-year, $4.25-million deal that will take him to unrestricted free agency.
“You want to go out there and have fun but, at the same time, you’ve got to know it’s a business and a job,” Nelson said. “Once you get in the swing of the regular season, you’re among the guys. I think you put the business aside, behind you, and just go out and play.”