Defenseman--Casey Nelson DOB: July 18, 1992 (Age, 26)
How acquired: College Free Agent (Minnesota State,) 2016
Last contract signed: May 2, 2018 (2yr./$1.625 million)
Final year of contract: 2019-20
2018-19 Stats: 38 games | 1 goal | 5 assists | 6 points | +1 | 15:25 ATOI
Buffalo Career Stats: 93 games | 4 goals | 14 assists | 18 points | -15 | 16:22 ATOI
What we wrote preseason: At 26 yrs. old Buffalo Sabres defenseman Casey Nelson is far from being a wide-eyed rookie in the NHL. Yet with only 55 games played he still has a lot to learn at the NHL-level. Nelson was an under-the-radar signing by Buffalo in 2016 out of Minnesota State University (Mankato) but caught the attention of Sabreland with four assists in his first three pro games. The smooth skating, offensive defenseman showed well on NHL ice to the point where a good camp would mean a knocking on the door of a spot on the opening night roster for 2016-17.
He would have a rough go of it in the NHL, was sent down and spent most of his first full pro season in Rochester.
Nelson's journey to full-time NHL duty, should it play out that way, was marked by smack-downs and revivals from college onward. A numbers game kept Nelson in Rochester for most of last season and from a development standpoint it worked out rather well. He will face a similar situation this year. Buffalo GM Jason Botterill signed Nelson to a two-year contract extension in May and without waiver eligibility for the defenseman, one would expect he and coach Phil Housley expect Nelson to be in the lineup for the opener on October 4.
What we wrote mid-season: One of those walking-wounded defensemen is Nelson, who was pretty solid in a reserve role before being placed on injured reserve on December 8. Nelson was another good free agent addition by the Sabres as the former Minnesota State Mavericks defenseman has been paying his dues while playing for both the Amerks (118 games) and Sabres (77 games) since signing with Buffalo in 2016. He plays a quiet game while simply getting the job done and can be called upon to hold the fort in a reserve role. The 26 yr. old is out of waiver options and is another reason why Pilut might end up back with the Amerks once Buffalo's defense gets healthy. Nelson has a goal and four assists in 22 games for the Sabres this season and leads all Buffalo defensemen with a plus-6 rating.
Impressions on his play this year: Nelson is what he is a good, puck-moving defensive-defenseman who isn't going to wow you. He's a bottom-pairing/reserve d-man who plays a rather quiet, reserved game with that demeanor (negatively) on full display in a March incident concerning captain Jack Eichel.
Eichel was checked hard into the boards by Colorado Avalanche defenseman (and former Sabre) Nikita Zadorov with the latter ripping off the helmet of Eichel. Nearby was Nelson, who did nothing. Fellow d-man Marco Scandella flew in to defend his captain and was soon followed by Sam Reinhart as they engaged the perpetrator. Even Jeff Skinner got in on the act as he and Miko Rantenen scuffled enough to draw coincidental roughing penalties.
After all was said and done and visions of the Milan Lucic/Ryan Miller incident danced around Sabreland, Nelson would find himself on the bench as a healthy scratch the next game. The benching, ironically, came at the hands of head coach Phil Housley, one of the softest players in Sabres history.
Questions moving forward: What does new bench boss Ralph Krueger think of him in a reserve role? What does Krueger think of the Eichel/Zadorov incident? Can Nelson up his offense a little more? Can he stay on the plus side of the plus/minus rating? Did they find an ATOI sweet sport for him at 15-16 minutes? Is there hidden intensity within Nelson's rather stoic on-ice demeanor?
Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via sabres.com and hockey reference.com.