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Nielsen's Next Level; Injuries Pile Up

by Cory Wright / New York Islanders

MSG’s Stan Fischler recently referred to Frans Nielsen as one of the most underrated players in the league. Fischler and other keen observers of the Islanders have long heralded Nielsen for his defensive play, but the Danish center is coming into his own as a scorer. This season Nielsen established new career highs in goals (22) and points (49) and will likely hit the 50-point plateau for the first time.

“I got off to a really good start and I think that helped,” Nielsen said. “I’ve been riding that start all year, but I am always lucky enough to be in a good position. Every game I have good players around me so that helps.”

Nielsen had seven goals and eight assists in October, including three, three-point games. A multi-point effort from Nielsen bodes well for the Islanders, who are 7-0-1 if he gets on the scoresheet twice.

While Nielsen is currently centering the Islanders’ top line in place of the injured John Tavares, the Dane anchored the Islanders second unit until the Olympic break. Nielsen said his new role has its perks such as increased 5-on-5 ice time – Nielsen plays power play and penalty kill – but it’s a challenge to be the guy on a nightly basis.

“It’s not an easy job that Johnny has there,” Nielsen said in an interview with Isles TV’s Greg Picker. “I’ve always felt that I was capable of doing it, but it’s only been a short period of time. To do it for 82 games, that’s what is so impressive in what Johnny does.”

Nielsen’s play has impressed his teammates, who are thrilled to see him step up in every situation this season, especially with a consistently changing roster.

“He was so good to start the season and he’s really continued his play,” Kyle Okposo said. “He’s had a lot of different wingers throughout the year, but he just keeps going.”

Okposo went on citing Nielsen’s ability to enter the zone with the man advantage and help the Islanders set up their formation. He called it an underrated, but highly important skill. Okposo also said that he sees other teams keying in on Nielsen, which is a compliment – and a challenge – for any player.

Nielsen, one of the few Danish NHLers, is a well-known athlete in his native land. His teammates call him the Danish prince and joke that he’s a celebrity in Denmark because he gets recognized and stopped when walking down the streets of Herning.

Between his fans in Denmark, his foes in the NHL and his new title of 20-goal scorer, Nielsen may be underrated no more.

Okposo leaves practice as injures mount:

The Islanders roster was dealt another blow Friday morning, as the team announced that Kyle Okposo was day-to-day with a lower-body injury. The Islanders recent rash of injuries includes: Michael Grabner (concussion), Brian Strait (broken hand) and Lubomir Visnovsky (upper body), along with John Tavares’ season-ending injury.

Grabner was hurt in the Isles 7-4 win in Vancouver on March 10, while Strait broke his hand blocking a shot Tuesday night. Visnovsky is believed to have been injured earlier this week, while Okposo left today’s practice. Both are listed as day-to-day.

“It takes me longer to read the injury report than it has at any other point since I’ve been here,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “I haven’t seen anything like this in a while.

Capuano said he was frustrated with the injuries, saying they present challenges with teaching and developing the nine rookies on his roster.

“It’s hard when guys are coming in and out of the lineup,” Capuano said. “We are playing with different line combinations, playing with different players. It makes it hard to keep the continuity of the team together.”

While there are a lack of bodies on the ice, some of the injured players are still having an impact off of it. Tavares has been at all Islanders home games since his MCL tear and is offering advice from the birds-eye view at Nassau Coliseum.

“Having the guys around helps,” Ryan Strome said. “Even just to talk to them and see how they handle these situations.”

Pulock, Reinhart named WHL All-Stars:

Islanders’ prospects Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Pulock were named to the Western Hockey League’s All-Star teams Friday. Pulock cracked the Eastern Conference first All-Star team, while Reinhart was named to the East’s second team.

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