is patient, smart with the puck, offensively and defensively minded, and extremely dangerous on the penalty kill. But that’s old news to Islanders fans, as well as his teammates and coaches. Thus, as Nielsen’s numbers (and the Islanders record) continue to improve, he just continues to prove what everyone on Long Island has already known.
“He comes up quiet a bit,” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “You guys notice the same things as myself, the coaches and his teammates notice. He does all the little things and the intangibles for us in games. Not only is he contributing offensively but he’s got great decision making with the puck. He manages the puck extremely well and defensively down low he’s one of the best that I’ve coached.”
In his third full NHL season, Nielsen, 26, was promoted to the team’s assistant captain earlier this year. And as the 2010-11 regular season continues to wind down, the centerman has been drawing more attention from the national media and has slowly been making a case to become a potential candidate for this year’s Selke Trophy.
|Marty Reasoner #19 of the Florida Panthers faces off with Frans Nielsen #51 of the New York Islanders during an NHL hockey game at the Nassau Coliseum on February 21, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images) |
“It’s something to be proud of,” Nielsen said of the potential Selke nomination. “There are so many good players in this league. So to be even considered and talked about to maybe be apart of that category it’s pretty big.”
As voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, the Frank J. Selke Trophy honors the player which the association feels is the most skilled forward in the defensive aspect of the game. This couldn’t ring more true for Nielsen.
“The Swedish Elite League used to be a big trap league,” Nielsen said. “Teams were trapping system wise. You really learn that part of the game, especially when you’re a young guy coming in on a team. Playing on the fourth line, all you’re getting told it not to get scored on and to make sure they don’t score so that you’re top two lines can have a chance to win the game. When I went to Sweden, I was playing one way, to score goals. They really taught me the two-way game when I got there.”
He’s not afraid to step into the puck and block shots, slow down the game, hold off his opponent or send a saucer pass up ice to give his teammate the shorthanded breakaway. But he’s also been known to steal his own shorthanded breakaway from time to time; his five shorthanded goals lead the National Hockey League this season.
“If you notice, he’ll go back for a puck in the corner in the D-zone, he protects it really well,” Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald
said. “He’ll have guys all over him, but he’ll protect it and make a smart play. There’s a lot of times the net-front defenseman will be open – and it’s a risky pass because it’s in front of your net – but he’s very good at making those plays, finding where their guys are and aren’t.”
MacDonald continued, “A lot of times, you’ll get pressure on you and you just don’t want to lose the puck, but he’s able to maintain his composure and make a strong play. As a defenseman, it’s a lot easier to be out there with him because he kind of already knows where you are. It’s pretty special.”
His numbers are such that they can’t be ignored.
He’s recorded 56 blocked shots, the most of all Islanders forwards this season, and he’s second on the roster in takeaways, also 56. He’s recorded a mere 28 giveaways. On top of that, he and his linemates are the only players (of active Islanders) to have recorded a plus ranking this season. He holds a +8, Michael Grabner
a +11 and Kyle Okposo
|Frans Nielsen #51 of the New York Islanders celebrates a first period goal by Blake Comeau #57 (not shown) against Niklas Backstrom #32 of the Minnesota Wild at the Nassau Coliseum on March 2, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Wild 4-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) |
Originally drafted by the Islanders in the third round (87th overall) of the 2002 Entry Draft, Nielsen has grown up through the Islanders system and has had years of training to grow and mature. Thus, if the 6’0 center from Herning, Denmark is asked a question, he’s quiet, genuine and extremely humble.
“He’s very humble,” MacDonald said. “He’s going to deflect any kind of praise you put on him. He’s quiet in the room, but he wears a letter for a reason. It’s because he’s a quiet leader and you just watch him on the ice. He presents himself on and off the ice as very professional.”
Even after posting three-assists in the Islanders 4-1 win against the Minnesota Wild, Nielsen still told the media that he didn’t think he played a great game. Instead, Nielsen put his teammates first. Every time questions are directed towards him as a player, he doesn’t respond with “I” or “me” and instead he gives his teammates resounding credit for the season he’s been having.
While Grabner and Okposo deserve some recognition, Nielsen has been having one of the best seasons of his professional career. He has already broken his career high in assists, posting 28 this season (his previous record was 26) and he is on track to break his career-high in points, as he’s some combination of two goals and assists shy of that 38 point mark.
“He’s one of the most valuable members on our team,” MacDonald said. “He’s defensively sound, one of the best defensive forwards in the game. His offensive upside – the way that he, Okie (Okposo), and Grabs (Grabner) have been dominating games lately – it’s been really nice to watch, and even better to be out there with him. You can’t say enough about how special he is to this team.”
So if there’s one guy to keep an eye out for on the Nassau Coliseum ice the rest of this season, it’s Nielsen. His vision of the game is one area that will surely make this guy have an extremely successful and rewarding career.