UNIONDALE, N.Y.— Using college as a launching-pad to the NHL helped an Islanders former first-round draft pick become a first-line forward.
Kyle Okposo parlayed his time
at the University of Minnesota into becoming one of the most reliable forwards on the roster. The Islanders are hoping 2010 first-round pick Brock Nelson can follow a similar career trajectory.
General manager Garth Snow traded two second-round selections to Chicago for the 30th overall selection, where Snow tabbed the 18-year-old Nelson in last month’s entry draft.
It might be years before the 6-foot-3 center calls Nassau Coliseum home. Nelson is slated to start his freshman season at the perennial national-title contender University of North Dakota this fall. But this week Nelson is skating with the rest of the Islanders top young players at its annual prospect camp in his experience of a professional hockey atmosphere.
Nelson looked comfortable on an NHL rink, feeding crisp passes to line-mate David Toews during an offensive-zone drill on Thursday. The Minneapolis native fired quick shots off his black-and-silver Easton stick on goalie prospect Brian Robbins. His white, numberless jersey often made contact with defenders as Nelson utilized his size to thwart pressure during the half-ice segment of the nearly hour-long on-ice session.
As Nelson gets ready to start his collegiate career, he said he’s been focusing on adding muscle to his 200-pound frame to match up against NHL defensemen.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” Nelson said. “I obviously have to get bigger and stronger. All the guys in the NHL are bigger, faster [and] stronger, so that’s what you have to do. Off-ice, you just have to work hard and that will come.”
Nelson is just months removed from high school, where he netted 149 points in just 56 games over two seasons for Warroad High School in Minnesota. He will join a North Dakota squad that is coming off eight straight NCAA Tournament appearances. The good news for the Islanders is the Sioux program jump-started Jonathan Toews’ career. David’s brother captained the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup championship this season.
Nelson would like to duplicate that career move. Yet he said his goals for his freshman year remain simple.
“I want to develop and be able to help the team, contribute to North Dakota and be a go-to guy,” Nelson said.
In a span of one summer, Nelson has experienced the highs of the draft, his first minicamp and the upcoming excitement of freshman orientation and college classes. The left-handed shot said the experience hasn’t been overwhelming.
“I’m taking it all in. It’s been fun,” Nelson said out the Coliseum’s dressing room. “It’s a good experience. This is where I want to play eventually.”
Nelson was the Islanders second selection in the opening round after the team tabbed Nino Niederreiter with the fifth overall pick. Fans can see both players and other promising players like Kirill Petrov and Kirill Kabanov during the team’s scrimmage at the Coliseum on Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 each.
Islanders head coach Scott Gordon and his staff offered on-ice instruction and conducted drills for the team’s prospect camp roster that was split into two groups. Nelson said professional coaching has been beneficial despite being in the Islanders organization for less than two weeks.
“Just a lot of little tips that the coaches point out there and show us, like body positioning and little things,” Nelson said on what he learned. “I’ll take a little bit away from here and bring it back to North Dakota.”