At the conclusion of Day 2 of the Islanders Training Camp, the spirits were high. It didn’t matter whether the skaters were rookies or veterans, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves while working hard.
Moments after Islanders veteran Trent Hunter left the ice, he said, “I like where we’re headed. We’ve got a lot of great young players and you can watch them grow last year and they all made huge strides. It’s a new year and they’re a year smarter and a year stronger. I think we have a great blend of young guys and some older ones as well.”
One of those players is Islanders centerman Frans Nielsen
who is entering his fifth season with the Islanders organization. After being drafted in the third round (87th overall) of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Nielsen spent four seasons in Sweden, three with the Redhawks Malmo and one with the Timra IK, before coming to North America.
Beginning his professional career with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers during the 2006-07 season, the forward has come up through the ranks and really started to come in to his own.
In his third season with organization, the rookie broke through to the NHL, playing in 59 games for the Islanders tallying 9 goals and 24 assists for 33 points. Last season, the centerman tallied his highest point totals of his NHL career with 38 points (12 goals, 26 assists), finishing his season with a plus four ranking and six penalty minutes.
This summer, Nielsen spent a lot of time here on Long Island trying to get stronger inside the weight room and working on his conditioning in hopes of proving his worth to the team.
“I think last year I finally found my role on the team, trying to help out the team defensively,” Nielsen said. “I mean there’s a lot of talent on this team this year so we’ll see if I get the same amount of power play and stuff like that out there, but of course that’s one of the things I want to get better at. I want to help the team offensively and I think I can do more than I did last year.”
While improving certain parts of his game may be important to Nielsen, the Islanders Head Coach Scott Gordon already knows that the centerman has proved his worth to the Islanders organization.
“I think if you ask around the league what they know about Frans Nielsen
, (you’ll find out) he’s probably one of the best kept secrets,” Coach Gordon said. “Of all the guys, if you asked them if they could play with somebody who they’d want to play with, Fransie would be at the top of the list just because he’s so responsible on both sides of the puck.”
The 26-year-old from Herning, Denmark couldn’t have received higher marks from his teammate and occasional linemate Trent Hunter.
“Fransie (Nielsen) is one of those great playmakers that doesn’t get credit for what he does on the ice,” Hunter said. “He sees the ice so well and when you’re playing with him you find the open ice and he’ll get you the puck.”
“He is such a good all around player,” Hunter continued. “I think he’s definitely one of the most underrated players in the league and I think he’s starting to get more of that recognition. I think the more he plays, the more he’ll be noticed, that’s for sure.”
Whether or not the Nielsen improves his point totals this season, Hunter has noticed an improvement in his teammates confidence, which has helped the players game improve over the past few years.
“He’s been given a great chance and he’s taken full advantage of it,” Hunter said. “He’s always had the skill and the smarts, but sometimes you just need that confidence and the plays he makes with the puck, maybe holding on to it for an extra second and finding that open man. He’s great at making plays and he’s a lot of fun to play with.”
The fun factor isn’t the only part of Nielsen’s game that fans should take notice of. He’s also a great defensive player, which he may get him the nod for the Frank J. Selke trophy at some point in his career.
“His skill is so good that when he gets in trouble in the defensive zone, when he’s under pressure, I shouldn’t say trouble, he’s able to make plays to get him out of trouble,” Coach Gordon said. “He’s positionally going to be good all the time and his compete level, he’s going to give you everything he has every single shift. And as a result, it’s not an accident that he was one of our plus players last year.”
The forward is also dangerous when he’s on the shootout squad. Coach Gordon said he’s a valuable player in that area “because he scores. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. He scores.”
Not only does he come through for his team at one of the most intense moments, his teammates also enjoy watching the artistry that goes along with every shootout attempt. While Nielsen denied to give many hints to what he’s been working on for his shootout, he said it’s a backhanded move that will hopefully keep goaltenders across the league on edge.
“He’s fun to watch,” Hunter said. “He keeps goalies on their toes, that’s for sure. He’s got one go to move that works pretty well for him, but when goalies start to cheat than he can do other stuff as well. So he’s been huge for us in the shootout and really given us that edge.”
This season Nielsen will again be putting his shootout skills to the test, but with all the hard work he’s put in to his training this summer, he hopes that he’ll be able to improve upon all aspects of his game, helping the Islanders to a playoff berth.