The worst thing for young players – or any players, for that matter – is to think they've arrived. Now that Casey Nelson is on the Sabres' top defensive pair, he knows he's earned the trust of Buffalo's management and coaching staff.
"It's a good feeling, but I'm not satisfied," Nelson said Thursday. "I've just got to keep going forward."
Nelson will skate alongside Marco Scandella when the Sabres host the New York Islanders, a rapid rise to the top of the depth chart. It took the 25-year-old only 10 games. He made his season debut on the third pair Jan. 18 against the New York Rangers, and he's steadily increased his role and minutes.
"I just like the way he's moving the puck and defending," coach Phil Housley said in KeyBank Center. "He's trying to keep the game simple. His first pass is usually really good and on the tape. I like the way he's defending. He's trying to keep his inside position, especially against bigger players.
"In the offensive zone, I really like the way he finds lanes and gets pucks to the net. He has a great way of changing his angle."
Nelson has attempted 15 shots, and 12 have reached the net.
"Either it's there right away to shoot or sometimes we have a little bit more time than we think," he said. "If I can get them off their edges and try to sway them one way or the other, it's kind of what you're looking for."
Nelson is looking for his first goal, but he has one assist. He's more proud of his defensive work.
"Offense has always just kind of came to me naturally," he said. "You've got to play defense in this league to really play."
Nelson earned confidence during the opening 37 games with Rochester. He was minus-10 last season but is a team-best plus-11 this year, a 21-point improvement.
"We're a pretty good practice group down there – not that we aren't here – but we really focus on our practices and try to apply that to our games," Nelson said. "It's helped any of us that have came up here, for sure."
With Zach Bogosian (hip) done for the season and Jake McCabe (thumb) out for the next three to four weeks, Nelson should get more looks.
"Anytime I can be in the lineup, I'm going to work my butt off and just look forward to the next day," he said.
Story topics: Casey Nelson