Season Stats: 37 GP | 3 G | 5 A | 8 PTS
Contract Status: UFA
Leading up to the 2017-18 season, there was uncertainty regarding whether or not Casey Nelson would get an extended look with the big club. With veteran players like Justin Falk, Taylor Fedun and for some reason, Matt Tennyson ahead of him on the organizational depth chart, very few lineup prognosticators gave him much of a chance to secure a permanent role.
After signing with the Sabres as a collegiate free agent toward the end of the 2015-16 season, Nelson played quite well in blue-and-gold to close out the year. Last season, he spent most of his time in Rochester, leaving a lot to be desired in his 11 game stint in Buffalo where he failed to register a single point.
On January 18, Nelson finally got his chance, becoming the sixth Amerks defenseman to receive a call-up this season, an opportunity he took full advantage of. Almost immediately, he brought a sense of two-way defensive ability that had been lacking in Western New York. When paired with Brendan Guhle, his defensive partner with the Amerks, Sabres fans were treated to an encouraging look at the team’s future on the blue line.
Though Nelson’s eight points in 37 games doesn’t jump out at you on the score sheet, the 25-year-old excelled in transition from the defensive zone. Of course, as was the case with nearly all of the Sabres’ defenders, there were moments of lackluster play in his own zone, but the potential is certainly there. His overall performance more than likely earned him a full-time role on the roster in 2018-19.
He is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, According to John Vogl of the Buffalo News, Jason Botterill has been in communication with Nelson’s agent.
“He’s an example of what we have to do here in this organization is develop from within,” Botterill said. “Our communication with him has been very positive.”
In all likelihood, the team will retain Nelson on a short-term deal. The Sabres prospect cupboard is relatively bare on defense. With so few viable youngsters in the system, they would be foolish to let an affordable, reliable player hit the open market.
Season Grade: B
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