Player Report Card: Casey Nelson

Nelson is an underrated piece on the blueline

Season Stats: 38 GP | 1 G | 5 A | 6 PTS

Age: 26

Contract Status: One-year, $812,500 cap hit

With a solid performace this season as the Buffalo Sabres’ seventh defenseman, Casey Nelson has somewhat resurrected what was almost a lost NHL career. The defender took advantage of injuries last season to climb the organizational depth chart and earn a full-time role with the big club this year.

Appearing in 38 games this season, Nelson has drawn some mixed reviews among fans. However, there may be more to his game than what meets the eye.

After jumping into the NHL from Minnesota State and instantly impressing with four assists in seven games, Nelson registered only six points in 38 this season. His consistant play lauded praise from Coach Housley, though, as he was a stable presence on the backend. While he is certainly not the fastest, toughest, or flashiest player by any stretch of the imagination, Nelson put up some pretty impressive Corsi numbers.

He played less important minutes, sure, but any time you can stay ahead of Rasmus Dahlin in any category it raises an eyebrow. While postive shot rates are important, his expected goal total when on the ice is pretty uneventful.

Like many of his teammates this season, Nelson found himself having to constantly adjust to a new defense partner when he took the ice. While typically filling in as the team’s sixth defenseman, he was fairly stable and consistent no matter who he was paired with. Slight spikes in expected goals occured when paired with Dahlin and Lawrence Pilut, as was the case with pretty much anyone. Yet, all of his pairings settle in “dull” category.

Despite the dull play, Nelson certainly was a contributer and not a detriment to the Sabres in 2018-2019. In one last chart, check out his goals above replacement value:

Third amongst Sabres’ defensemen in Corsi, third in goals above replacement, and dull but not detrimental play. I’d say that list may earn him a chance at a full-time top six role next season. Coming up on a contract year, it will be interesting to see if Casey Nelson can take that next step.

Season Grade: B-

What grade would you give Casey Nelson?