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2021 NHL Draft Prospect: Henry Nelson

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The Player

Henry Nelson

Maple Grove(MN) High School

6’1” 180 lbs.

Final NHL Central Scouting Rank: 96th among North American skaters

The Narrative

Henry Nelson is a product of Maple Grove High School in Minnesota, and grew up in the Maple Grove youth hockey system as part of a group that is at least in the running for one of the most talented ever to come through Minnesota. Nelson grew up playing on teams with 2020 2nd round draft pick Brock Faber, along with projected 2021 draft picks Justin Janicke and Kyle Kukkonen. A third defenseman, Cal Thomas, has committed to play Division I college hockey, and it’s likely a handful more will also end up playing in college after junior hockey as well.

As a result, Nelson didn’t always draw as much individual attention. But people that watched Maple Grove closely saw a really talented young defenseman that could potentially hear his name called in this year’s NHL Draft.

What I Like

-Good Skater

Nelson is a good athlete with above average agility and balance. He looks smooth and quick on the ice, and as a result, is in good position to make plays fairly regularly. His quick feet allow him to change shot angles and get shots around shot blocks and through on net.

-Smart, possession-oriented game

Growing up playing with such a talented group in Maple Grove, Nelson’s teams spent a lot of time with the puck on their stick. As a group, they were exceptional at spreading the ice out and moving the puck around the offensive zone. Nelson shows good sense in following the play and making himself available to catch passes in open areas, then moving the puck effectively to teammates. It’s a skill that should serve him well as he progresses towards higher levels of play.

-Gets Pucks on Net Quickly

A lot of the offense that Nelson generates comes from his ability to fire quick, accurate wrist shots from the point. He’s got a great shot release that allows him to get pucks through and onto the net before shot blockers and the goalie can get set, and he hits the net consistently.

Here’s a good example of him showing off his ability to move without the puck and then get pucks on net quickly from a high school playoff game (#12 in white)

And here is a clip from his brief time in Lincoln. Nelson is the left defenseman that will intercept a pass in his own zone, then eventually pick up an assist on a quick shot to the net:

What I Don’t Like

-Small track record

Nelson played high school hockey last season, which is already a step down in level of play from junior hockey. And he played on a Maple Grove team that was loaded with talent against decent-but-not-great competition, which meant he played in a lot of games that weren’t that close, and never really tested him defensively.

After the high school season, Nelson got six games in with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL. But as a young kid thrown onto a team late in their season, Nelson didn’t see a ton of ice time playing behind more established players. It was too small of a sample size to draw many conclusions either way.

None of this is really disqualifying in terms of his draft prospects. It’s just that it is going to be much tougher for scouts to get a good read on him that it might be for some other prospects—although this draft is going to have much more extrapolation and guesswork than most thanks to the Covid pandemic.

  • Overshadowed

One of the big things that kept Nelson from drawing more attention coming up was that he was playing on a team with an exceptional defenseman in Brock Faber. Nelson was always considered very good, but never quite in the elite category that Faber was. Of course, now that Faber has developed into a top NHL prospect, that likely only helps Nelson’s case to be drafted.

Draft Projection

It’s unlikely Nelson goes in the top two rounds of the draft. Unless somebody saw something they really liked, I just don’t think he has the track record to justify it. Anything beyond that tends to be a bit of a crapshoot—even moreso this year with fewer games played, lots of video scouting, and all the rest of challenges presented by Covid.

That said, I do think Nelson is worthy of being selected somewhere. He’s been overshadowed for much of his career as the third or fourth wheel on some really great teams, but I really like his athleticism and skating ability and think those skills are worth taking a shot on. In the later rounds of the draft, you’re looking for one or two translatable attributes and hope the rest—in this case, the defensive maturity—comes along later on in the process. We’ll say third round is the ceiling, sixth-seventh round is the floor and fourth or fifth round is the most likely.

Pro Projection

Nelson projects as a puck-moving offensive defenseman. Best case scenario, he ends up as a player that can play on the power play. But even if he can’t continue to score like he did against high school competition, he could be a very reliable second or third pairing defenseman whose athleticism and hockey sense allows him to be effective in terms of maintaining puck possession for his team.

Timeline

Nelson is committed to play college hockey at Notre Dame. He could potentially play there next season, but between the strange pandemic season last year, and mostly just playing high school hockey, it is more likely, and probably more beneficial, that he plays next season in the USHL. That would give him the opportunity to see more ice time and play a bigger role for his team, especially offensively. Notre Dame is a great fit for him because they play a very tight, responsible type of defensive game, which is probably the area Nelson needs to improve the most.

Nelson is likely a prospect that is going to need some patience. He’ll be the type of late round that a team can draft and let marinate for three or four seasons before seeing what they end up with.