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Nielsen excited to play in Detroit, with Zetterberg

Underrated two-way center doesn't seek limelight, just wants to play his game

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT - Frans Nielsen was happy and comfortable playing with the New York Islanders but when the Red Wings called, he was happy to answer.

Nielsen, 32, signed a six-year contract with an average annual value of $5.25 million on July 1.

"Detroit, when you play hockey, it's one of the biggest places you can get," Nielsen said. "All the history, Original Six, everything. I think Detroit is a tough place to turn down for any hockey player."

After Pavel Datsyuk decided to return to Russia to play in the KHL, the Wings made Nielsen their top priority going into free agency.

"We felt like Frans was easily the best two-way center on the market," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I had a chance to watch him tons through the season, had a chance to watch him tons in the playoffs. I thought he had great impacts in every game. He can play against the other team's best players and still produce offense, that's a rarity. That's what we'd like to be able to do."

Although he might be taking Datsyuk's spot on the roster, Nielsen doesn't expect to replace him.

"I think I want to come in and be the same guy I was in New York," Nielsen said. "There's a reason they wanted me here. That's what they saw there. I don't want to change, I want to be a solid, 200-foot player, good defensively and try to help out all over the ice, if it's PK, power play, 5-on-5, whatever it is. I've played a mix of everything there. I don't know if it's going to be the same here but at least that's the kind of player I am and hopefully they saw that."

Nielsen, a native of Denmark, played for Team Europe in the World Cup along with Wings teammates Thomas Vanek and Tomas Tatar.

Nielsen and Vanek were two of the few veterans who took part in the team's optional practice Thursday at Joe Louis Arena.

"It's been really good," Nielsen said. "Just to try to learn the system a little bit, been a lot of meetings with Blash and just to see all the guys. It's been fun, it's been a good couple of days."

Blashill said his initial plan is for Nielsen to center a line with Henrik Zetterberg on his wing.

"He has a give and go to his game, which I thought makes him a great match with Henrik," Blashill said. "Henrik wants to play a give and go game and he's certainly got that."

Nielsen is delighted at the prospect of playing with Zetterberg.

"It'll be awesome," Nielsen said. "Z is a guy, I've known him for a lot of years, never played with him but a guy I always looked up to. He's a great, great person off the ice and great player. Just the way he played I always looked up to him and always tried to copy him a little bit, I guess. I'm really excited to get a chance to play with him."

Nielsen's wife, Moa, is from Zetterberg's hometown.

"That's where I met him the first time, probably 10-11 years ago now," Nielsen said. "I signed up in Timra, his old team. That's where I met him the first time and met my wife up there too. I get up there a little bit too in the summer where he is."

Zetterberg and others have described Nielsen as underrated.

Nielsen said he's not the type of guy who sticks out and doesn't mind if he's not the center of attention.

"(John) Tavares took all the attention (with the Islanders) and I just went out and did my stuff out there," Nielsen said. "I'm not looking for too much attention. I'm going to go out there and try and be the hardest-working guy and play a good, solid, two-way game. So yeah, not too flashy or anything. For sure, I kind of enjoyed staying a little bit under the radar with guys like Tavares in the room."

Nielsen has scored 25, 14 and 20 goals in his last three seasons. 

His 52 points last year would have ranked Nielsen first on the Wings, ahead of Zetterberg's 50 and Datsyuk's 49.

Nielsen is also best in the league at shootouts with a career 52.6 percent success rate.

"I kind of have the same two moves and I'm going with those," Nielsen said. "It's been working. I did miss a little bit last year, I think goalies tried to figure it out a little bit. Might have to change it up a little bit. It's no secret. I kind of just stayed with what I'm comfortable with on shootouts."

For those who enjoy advanced metrics, Nielsen has also been at 51 percent or above in Corsi for percentage the last three seasons and is 50.6 percent for his career.

"He looks like somebody that just keeps getting better," Blashill said. "If you at his team statistically, whether it's face-offs or points or whatever, it looks like a lot of his statistics have trended upwards."

Although it was a difficult decision for Nielsen to leave the only team he had ever known, he's excited about this season with the Wings.

"I played close to 20 minutes every game in all situations so you could say I was in a perfect spot," Nielsen said. "So it was tough but at the same time, I think I felt that it was time to try something new. I had a little feeling that sometimes it might be dangerous to be in the same spot too long. You can get a little too comfortable. 

"I felt to get pushed a little bit again and see some new faces, new voices and I think sometimes change is a good thing."

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