Jack Capuano sees Frans Nielsen as an extension of his coaching staff.
He sees him as one of the Islanders’ best teachers, showing the younger players the right way to play the game, including a focus on defense.
“Overall when you talk about a guy that a lot of our young guys have learned from at the center position, that’s one guy they’ll point out,” Capuano said of Nielsen. “He’s really an extension of our coaching staff.”
Nielsen can teach them a little bit about longevity too, as he suits up for his 600th NHL game – all with the Islanders – on Tuesday.
“It’s a proud moment every time you play a game in this league and I’m really proud to have played 600 so far,” Nielsen said.
Nielsen, who debuted for the Islanders in the 2006-07 season, is the 13th player to play 600 games in orange and blue. He’s in elite company, playing more games than Kenny Jonsson (597), John Tonelli (594) and Pat LaFontaine (530). Nielsen says the time has flown by and that he feels like his first game was only four of five years ago, not nine.
“I can’t even believe I’m there right now. It literally feels like my first game was 4 or 5 years back,” he said. “Right now you just realize how you just have to enjoy to and hopefully have a lot more games to come.”
Capuano coached Nielsen in Bridgeport, so the two go way back. He’s watched Nielsen develop from a quiet, Danish defensive specialist, into a reliable scorer for the Islanders. Nielsen scored 25 goals two seasons ago and is currently third in team scoring with 47 points (19G, 28A). One more goal and he’ll hit 20 for the second time in his career.
“When he first came over he was one of those guys who really took a lot of pride in his defensive game,” Capuano said. “We tried to squeeze and get more offense out of him and he’s done that, he’s really been one of the guys that we can rely on as far as point production goes.”
Nielsen is still soft-spoken, usually letting his play do the talking, but over time he’s emerged as one of the Islanders’ leaders. Such a thing tends to happen when you’re the longest-tenured player on the team.
“I’ve tried to be the same player the whole time, but you just mature, you figure the league out and hopefully get more consistent every year as you learn,” Nielsen said. “Hopefully I got better.”
Six hundred games and an A on his sweater is probably a pretty good indicator that he did.