Who is the Islanders 2nd Center Behind Mat Barzal?

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at New York Islanders

The New York Islanders are in desperate need of a number two center and short of a wild last second trade for someone like Matt Duchene there are three internal candidates for the position. The list of candidates consists of; one return player, Brock Nelson, who the Islanders’ faithful have directed the hate they formerly directed at Josh Bailey, and two newcomers, NHL veteran Valtteri Filppula and KHL veteran, but NHL newcomer Jan Kovar.


Brock Nelson

Sep 17, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New York Islanders center Brock Nelson (29) during the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Brock has filled many roles on the Islanders roster already including second line center, first line wing, second line wing, thirdline center, scratch and as most Islanders play at one point in their career, scapegoat. The 26 year old, who will turn 27 just two weeks into the season, has spent the past 5 seasons with the Islanders playing 72 games, 81 games twice and 82 games twice in that span. He has finished with 20 goals or more in three of those five seasons and has finished with 15 or more assists in three seasons as well. The Warroad, Minnesota native sits one goal shy of 100 and one assist shy of 90, boasting 188 points in 398 career games.

Brock comes with a big body that allows him to be effective in the physical aspects of the game, but he also comes with a prowess to score when the opportunity arises. The problem with Brock Nelson is despite being a three time 20 goal scorer, he seems to leave much to be desired in his game-to-game play. He comes across at times as lazy and ineffective particularly defensively but it occurs in the offensive zone on occasion as well. Nelson has a huge opportunity here to step up and hold on to the second center role and excel. It seems that this is Brock’s job to lose and he has a chance to have a Josh Bailey type breakout season and earn the trust of his new coach as well as the toughest fan base in all of hockey.


Valtteri Filppula

Sep 17, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New York Islanders center Valtteri Filppula (51) during the first period against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The 34 year old Vantaa, Finland native has spent twelve full seasons in the NHL with stints in Detroit, Tampa Bay, and most recently two seasons in Philadelphia. Filppula is more of a playmaker to Nelson’s goal scoring style. With eleven goals and 22 assists last season with the Flyers Filppula has accumulated 463 points in 876 games. He has scored 20 or more goals just twice but he has set up 20 or more goals nine times including seasons of 43, 36 and 33 assists.

Valtteri Filppula feels more like a third line center, a Frans Nielsen like player as @ob1moroney alluded to on Twitter. He can be a solid veteran presence in the bottom-six/top-nine of the Islanders roster that can help be a defensive presence but can also activate and create opportunities for whoever he may play with.

Filppula could make sense as the second line center if Barry Trotz decides to keep Kieffer Bellows on the team’s opening night roster. Bellows appears to be a natural born scorer with an elite release, however he is young and his ability to create for himself is not quite there yet. Filppula could help to bring Bellows through his rookie season while helping to set up the elite level scoring potential Bellows shows.


Jan Kovar

The 28 year old Pisek, Czech Republic native has spent the past ten years playing professional hockey, five years with Plzen HC of the Czech Extraliga and the past five years he has played for Magnitogorsk Metallurg of the KHL. Kovar provides a mix of both goal scoring and playmaking, in his ten professional seasons he has managed 20 or more goals four times and 20 or more assists seven times including six seasons over 30 assists, three of those with more than 40. For reference the KHL only plays 60 games. Last season with Metallurg Jan had a down season with seven goals and 28 assists.

Jan has performed well this preseason in his North American professional debut. There will be an adjustment period to the NHL’s style of play and quite frankly not much is known about Kovar so it will be more difficult for him to wrestle the second center position away from Nelson than it will be for Filppula.



Brock Nelson is the heir apparent for the second center position and it will take an impressive preseason and camp performance from Kovar or Filppula to dethrone him. Just because Nelson seems to be the favorite to start the season in this position, that does not mean his job is safe. With a new bench boss and a new boss boss be prepared to see people’s jobs less safe and secure this season for the Islanders. There will be more accountability and that can either push Brock Nelson to finally realizes his potential or force him to crumble under the pressure.

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