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Flyers Should Try to Sign This Big Free-Agent Center

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Minnesota hockey, Philadelphia Flyers
University of Minnesota center Jaxon Nelson will soon be a free agent. The Flyers should try to sign him. Photo: AP.

Jaxon Nelson isn’t going to be an NHL superstar, but he is going to be a good bottom-six center who plays in all situations.

The Philadelphia Flyers should try to sign the 6-foot-4, 220-pound free-agent center from the University of Minnesota. He has helped the Gophers get into the April 6 Frozen Four semifinals against Boston University at 5 p.m. on ESPN2. (Michigan, which edged Penn State in the quarterfinals, and Quinnipiac are in the other semifinal.)

Nelson, 22, was a prep star in Minnesota, scoring 113 points back in 2015-16 for Luverne High School.

In 2016-17, he started to play for the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL. In 112 games, he only had 35 points. So, the struggle began.

In 2017-18, Nelson played a third USHL season, which isn’t uncommon, with the Omaha Lancers. He wore an “A” and scored 19 goals with 21 assists in 52 games. Progress was being made.

Central Scouting had him ranked 141st in North America, so he was looked at as a long shot to be drafted.

No team selected him.

Nelson committed to the University of Minnesota. They were a good team, and included Philadelphia Flyers prospect, Bryce Brodzinski, who I will write about very soon. Nelson isn’t a big-time offensive player, but he is a solid contributor.

Over the years, Nelson has contributed to Minnesota’s success. He’s a guy who can play in all situations. He’s playing with elite talent now like Logan Cooley, who was drafted No. 3 overall by the Arizona Coyotes in 2022. And don’t forget Jimmy Snuggerud, drafted 23rd overall by the St. Louis Blues in 2022.

Torts type of player

Nelson, now a senior, is the kind of player Philadelphia Flyers coach John Tortorella covets. He can be physical, and is a terrific penalty killer. Nelson can play the bumper or net-front presence on the power play, and he’s 55% on face-offs.

In 38 games this season, he has 25 points (9-16) and is plus-12. He has been the Gophers’ second-line center.

As a fourth-line NHL center (at worst), he’s worth trying to get to sign when his run at the 2023 Frozen Four is over.

Brodzinski, a winger who has 19 goals and 30 points in 38 games, could help in recruitment.

As a center, Nelson’s vision is very good. He can bring the puck up the ice and make smart decisions. All of these attributes are what the Flyers are looking for in young players.

The Flyers should be watching him closely, and then make an attempt to sign him when the Gophers’ season ends. Nelson will have a long list of suitors, but there’s no reason the Flyers shouldn’t try and impress him and let him know there’s opportunity in Philadelphia.

Nelson would still need to start next season in Lehigh Valley with the Phantoms, but his stay down there might not be long. I see him as a perfect fit for Tortorella. Let’s see what happens next.

Russ Cohen is a prospects expert for SiriusXM radio Elite Prospects.

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