Over his 8-year career with the New York Islanders Frans Nielsen was valuable in more ways than one – not only was he a dependable faceoff ace and two-way center, but he was also nearly automatic in the shootout with his lightning-quick rising backhander. Over his career he has had 17 game-deciding shootout goals and scored on 42 of his 84 attempts; even I can figure out that’s 50%. Now with the Detroit Red Wings, the 32-year-old is helping to fill a void left by Pavel Datsyuk (who left the NHL for the KHL) after signing a six-year deal on July 1 and the Islanders have yet to aptly fill the void that he left on their center depth chart.
Season So Far
Nielsen has put up 12 points (5g-7a) in his first 22 games of the season, including the two goals he potted in a wild 5-4 Wings overtime win on the road against the New Jersey Devils; he also assisted on the game-winner. Having played with the Isles so long he was always a thorn in the side of the Devils and now has 24 points (10g-14a) in 45 games against them.
“ I think we played one of our better games tonight,” he told the media surrounding his locker. “It wasn’t fancy. We were getting pucks deep, we were making it hard on their defense and forechecking. Hopefully, we realize that this is how we have to play to be successful.”
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) November 26, 2016
“I always enjoy playing here with the Islanders,” the best Danish player in NHL history told The Hockey Writers. “It’s always a fun crowd here and a lot of Islanders fans would come here too; always been a fun place for me to play.” He also noted that he heard the large contingent of Red Wings’ fans at the Rock when they scored; Detroit, like all Original Six teams, always has more than a handful of fans at games in New Jersey. “That was awesome to see and hear,” he said with a smile, “it just shows how big (of a deal) the Wings are.”
Despite being over the age of 30 he had many suitors when he became an unrestricted free agent, and for Nielsen, it was an easy decision once a team like the Red Wings made their interest known. “Once Detroit called,” he said, pausing to collect his thoughts, “it was hard to leave New York, don’t get me wrong, at the same time — it’s Detroit. So as a hockey player, people want to play here; in that way, it wasn’t a hard choice.”
Both teams Nielsen has played for in the NHL have a rich history of success and when he was with New York every chance he had to chat with legends of the game like Mike Bossy, Bobby Nystrom and Butch Goring (to name a few) he was soaking information in like a sponge. “I spent a lot of time talking with them and picking their brains when I was with the Isles,” he told THW. “It’s interesting to see what makes them and how they were successful, how they are thinking when they were playing, what their mindset was.”
That opportunity hasn’t really arisen yet with the Wings, as he had perhaps the most abbreviated training camp in league history for a guy that signed with a new team on July 1. “It’s still early in Detroit; I really haven’t got to know all the players that were around during the championship years. Hopefully, I’ll get to know a lot of them and I can pick their brains about stuff too. It’s great and you learn a lot about the game being around people like that.”
Hello, My Name Is…
— Team Europe (@TeamEUR_WCH) September 28, 2016
Nielsen’s solid start comes after having virtually no training camp with his new team because he participated in the World Cup of Hockey as a part of Team Europe. Where he also had to get quickly acclimated to a whole new team. “I probably had one practice and then the game against Toronto, the last preseason game,” he told THW, “and then I think we had a few more days before we started the season. For sure it wasn’t the way you want it to be (when coming to a new team), it almost felt like you got traded where you just got right in there and played.”
“It would have been way better to have a whole camp to get used to a new system and everything, but it is what it is.” What it was is basically Nielsen has played on two new teams since he left the Islanders – Detroit, and Team Europe which was comprised of players from multiple countries. For him, the experience wasn’t like it was for other players in the tournament – playing for their country with familiar faces that they grew up playing alongside internationally.
“I came in (to Team Europe) and I think I knew two or three guys,” Nielsen recalled, “and you had to get to know so many guys. Then I got to Detroit, and I think I knew, two or three guys. It was certainly a weird month there, and I guess the timing could have been better — moving teams and playing in the World Cup. It is what it is, though, and I wouldn’t trade that experience at the World Cup for anything. It was really fun.”
Despite all of the changes in his life recently, one thing that hasn’t changed is the friendships and bonds he has formed with his former Islander teammates, most of whom he grew up with as a professional player. “I was there for so long and I have a lot of friends for life there,” Nielsen told THW. “I follow what they are doing (in the league), I cheer for them; the organization and the guys there mean a ton to me.”
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.