On Nelson’s hockey journey, from Northern Minnesota to Brooklyn

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On Sunday, the NBC Sports Group will celebrate Hockey Day in America with an NHL quadrupleheader while featuring grassroots hockey stories from across the country.

Today, we look at the path Islanders forward Brock Nelson took from Warroad, Minnesota.

A big reason for the Isles’ recent turnaround?

The play of Brock Nelson.

The 25-year-old forward has three goals and six points in seven games this month, helping New York climb to within three points of Toronto for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

On the year, Nelson has 13 goals and 31 points through 55 games, and is on pace to set a career high in scoring.

He’s emerged as a vitally important player in Brooklyn. Which is an awfully long way from where he came from — a tiny town in Northern Minnesota.

Warroad, with approximate population of 2,000, is renowned for pumping out hockey talent. Caps forward T.J. Oshie starred for Warroad HS (as we wrote about yesterday) prior to launching his NHL career, and the city is also famous for the Christian clan — Bill, Dave, Roger and Gordon, who all represented the U.S. at various Winter Olympics.

The Christians are royalty in Warroad, and Nelson’s part of that. He was born and raised there, starring at the local high school like Oshie did years prior.

And then there’s the Christian family lineage.

Bill, Nelson’s grandfather, captured Olympic gold in ’60.

Dave, his uncle, was on the Miracle on Ice team at Lake Placid in ’80.

More on those ties, from SI:

Looking back now, the benefits of Brock’s bloodlines are easy to spot. He golfs over the summer with Dave, who led the U.S. in assists at Lake Placid and eventually played 1,009 NHL games.

As a child, Bill would pull him from school during lunchtime to skate at the local rink. Today, an Islanders game rarely passes without Bill texting beforehand to wish Brock good luck, or afterward to offer some advice.

“A lot of people don’t really know the history, the hockey history,” Brock says. “Some do back home. Some don’t. It’s hit or miss.”

As mentioned above, Warroad and its rich hockey history will be profiled as part of Sunday’s broadcast. It’s part of a massive slate that begins with Oshie and the Caps taking on the Rangers (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC), followed by Detroit-Pittsburgh (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

From there, Hockey Day in America shifts to NBCSN. First, it’s Chicago-Buffalo (6 p.m. ET) followed by Boston-San Jose (8:30 p.m. ET).

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

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Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

“Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.

Dumoulin agrees to six-year contract with Penguins

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Brian Dumoulin won’t need his arbitration hearing today.

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced this morning that the 25-year-old defenseman has agreed to terms on a six-year contract with a $4.1 million cap hit.

From the press release:

Dumoulin, 25, has been a key component to the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, as he played in all 49 playoff games in that span, and recorded 14 points (3G-11A). In the 2017 playoffs, Dumoulin had an average ice time of 21:59 minutes, the most of any Penguins skater, and his plus-9 paced all team defenders. He assisted on Carl Hagelin‘s empty-net goal that sealed the 2-0 victory in the decisive Game 6 of the Cup Final against Nashville. 

Dumoulin is coming off of a contract that paid him just $800,000 in each of the past two seasons.

With Dumoulin signed, Pittsburgh now has five defenseman under contract for at least the next three seasons, the other four being Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta, and Matt Hunwick.

The Pens still have one more arbitration case in forward Conor Sheary. His hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4.

Related: Without Letang, the ‘simple bunch’ gets it done for Penguins