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Frans Nielsen fills void at center for Red Wings

Detroit finds replacement for Datsyuk, adds forward depth with Vanek, Ott

by Paul Harris / Correspondent

DETROIT -- It made a distinct impression on Frans Nielsen when he was first contacted by the Detroit Red Wings this past Saturday after the 2016 NHL Draft.

It led Nielsen, who spent the first nine seasons of his NHL career with the New York Islanders, to sign a six-year contract with Detroit on Friday that according to ESPN is worth $31.5 million, an average annual value of $5.3 million.

"I was honored when they called. Detroit is a special place for hockey," Nielsen said Friday.

The Red Wings also signed forwards Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott each to a one-year contract. Vanek's contract is worth $2.6 million, and Ott's $800,000, TSN reported.

Nielsen, 32, had 20 goals and 52 points last season as the Islanders' second-line center.  

"I saw a chance to come in and play a style of hockey that looks fun from the outside," Nielsen said.

Video: Frans Nielsen on why he signed with the Red Wings

Getting a top-six center was a necessity for Detroit because of the departure of Pavel Datsyuk, who decided on June 18 to leave the NHL and return to Russia.

"Our No. 1 priority was a center," Detroit general manager Ken Holland said. "... [Frans] played behind [John] Tavares and had a lot of responsibility offensively and defensively. We feel he's a 200-foot player."

Nielsen said his style of play should look familiar to Red Wings fans.

"I know Henrik [Zetterberg] a little bit and he was always a player I looked up to, copied a little bit," Nielsen said. "So you'll see a similar style in me."

Nielsen will play on the power play and kill penalties. He is 42 for 82 in shootout attempts during his NHL career.

He said it was a difficult decision to leave the only NHL organization that he had ever played for.

"Without those guys, I wouldn't be the player that I am today. So I owe them," Nielsen said. "I feel that I needed a new challenge and I felt that Detroit was too good an opportunity to pass up, a great mix of youth and older players."

Nielsen has 119 goals and 349 points in 606 NHL games.

Video: FLA@NYI, Gm3: Nielsen ties it up on the power play

The Red Wings are hoping that Vanek, 32, can return to form; he scored 40 or more goals twice with the Buffalo Sabres (2006-07, 2008-09). Vanek was bought out by the Minnesota Wild on June 24 after scoring 39 goals over the past two seasons. Vanek had 18 goals last season and has 316 in 11 NHL seasons.

"You're always looking for goals and Thomas had 18 goals," Holland said. "Obviously, him getting bought out of his contract in Minnesota, we think we've got a motivated athlete."

Ott, 33, is an abrasive fourth-line player. He had two assists in 21 games with the St. Louis Blues last season, and had surgery on his hamstring in December.

The Red Wings also re-signed forward Darren Helm to a five-year contract and defenseman Alexey Marchenko to a two-year contract. 

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