Frans Nielsen’s on-ice “to-do list” is one of the longest in the NHL, as the Islanders center has a major role to play in virtually every situation on the ice.
Shut down opposition’s top players: check.
Play power play and penalty kill: check.
Be Islanders shootout ace: check.
Provide offense: check that off too.
Nielsen scored his first goal of the season Thursday night, helping lead the Islanders to a 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins. While he’s contributing all over the ice, Nielsen admitted a sense of relief by hitting the back of the net.
“It’s always fun when you’re able to score goals to help the team,” he said. “It took a little bit longer than I wanted it to, but it’s nice to get one. I knew it was going to come eventually if I just kept playing my game.”
Last season, Nielsen finished second on the team with 25 goals and third on the Islanders in points and assists with 58 and 33, respectively. Nielsen played a huge role on and off the ice for the team, especially after a knee injury sidelined captain John Tavares for the second half of the season.
“It’s fun when you get the offensive role,” Nielsen said. “I still want to do that and help the team and it’s fun when you have to be really good defensively. I enjoy playing both sides of the ice.”
In addition to defensive assignments, often against the top line for the opposition, Nielsen plays in virtually any situation at any given time during a game. Head Coach Jack Capuano said the team relies on Nielsen to play on the top power play unit, the top penalty kill unit, score goals, shutdown the top opposition and shoot first for the team when a game goes into a shootout.
[Frans Nielsen] probably is one of the guys who plays the toughest minutes for us. His minutes are tough, but his hard work pays off. - Jack Capuano
“[Frans Nielsen] probably is one of the guys who plays the toughest minutes for us,” he said. “His minutes are tough, but his hard work pays off all the time and as we move on, he’s going to get more goals, he’s going to get more points.”
Nielsen, now in a ninth season with the Islanders organization serves as one of the assistant captains for the team. Capuano said Nielsen knows when to speak up in the locker room, but often leads more by example.
“It’s all business with [Nielsen],” he said. “You see on the video the things that he does right. He plays the right way and that’s contagious amongst the guys. He doesn’t have to say a whole lot. He’s a quiet leader, but he does a lot of good things.”
For the Islanders, having Nielsen checks off a major box:
Employ one of the most versatile players in the NHL.
Defenseman Travis Hamonic (upper body) and forward Josh Bailey (broken hand) missed practice, but forward Mikhail Grabovski, currently on the injured reserve list with a concussion, participated fully. Grabovski skated on a line with Cory Conacher and Frans Nielsen and skated with the second power play unit.
“[Josh Bailey] was our best forward in the first period and over the last three or four games, he’s been really good for us,” Capuano said. “It’s just very unfortunate that this has to take place now, but it’s going to give other guys an opportunity to step up.”
Anders Lee skated on a line with Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome, while also practicing with the top power-play unit. The Islanders recalled Lee from Bridgeport before the game against the Boston Bruins and the forward made the drive from Bridgeport to Boston and back to Long Island.
“It was a little bit different, a true road game driving my car in, but it was worth it and kind of an experience I won’t forget,” he said.
Nikolay Kuelmin skated on a line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, while Cal Clutterbuck rejoined Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas on a line. Seven defensemen (Johnny Boychuk, Calvin de Haan, Matt Donovan, Thomas Hickey, Nick Leddy, Brian Strait and Lubomir Visnovsky) rotated through drills.