Our annual Top 25 Under 25 series serves to find the best young players in the Buffalo Sabres organization, be it NHL, AHL, European or junior leagues. We voted on everyone from Asplund to Willman, and the best 25 players get profiled throughout the month of September. Today's subject: Casey Nelson.
Casey Nelson, RHD
Age: 24 Height: 6'2'' Weight: 183 lbs.
Defenseman Casey Nelson pretty much came out of nowhere to jump into the Buffalo Sabres lineup late last season. Signed as a highly-touted college free agent out of Minnesota State University-Mankato in the WCHA conference, he had just finished his junior year when the Sabres picked him up in late March.
Nelson led a Mavericks blueline that held the defensive record among all NCAA teams of allowing the fewest shots per game. He was named the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year, and was also on the All-WCHA First Team. The Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin native scored a total of 60 total points (14 goals & 46 assists) during his 99-game college career.
He got off to a flying start with the Sabres, registering points in each of his first three starts, finishing up with four points and respectable performances in seven games. Buffalo signed him to a new two-year deal in June.
Seven games is still a very small sample size on which to judge a defenseman, but Nelson has shown a stabilizing presence on the Sabres defense so far. We had interviewed Shane Frederick, the college hockey writer for the Mankato Free Press as we tried to find out more about the player, and here is what they had to say.
His offensive skills listed above and his ability to move and make good decisions with the puck, whether it's to move it out of the D zone or around the offensive zone. He's an excellent skater and has good hands. He's also a hard worker with a real desire to improve his game.
Nelson will most likely start the season as the team’s seventh defenseman and will only see action if Cody Franson gets scratched or another d-man gets injured. After not getting any power play time last season, he will also attempt to live up to his offensive defenseman billing as the year goes on.