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Flying Under The Radar

Veteran center Frans Nielsen has quietly been a consistent force at both ends of the ice

Wednesday, 02.13.2013 / 5:13 PM ET / News
By Travis Betts
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Flying Under The Radar
In addition to providing offense, Frans Nielsen has been relied upon to keep the opposition's top lines off the score sheet (Photo: Getty Images)

With all the changes the Islanders roster has seen since the beginning of training camp, sometimes it’s easy to overlook the veterans who have been quietly getting the job done for years. Much of the focus this season has surrounded leading-scorer John Tavares, special teams play and the nine players who are in their first year with the organization, but seventh-year Islander Frans Nielsen has quietly put up impressive offensive numbers.

The Herning, Denmark, native has posted nine points (one goal, eight assists) in 12 games, but Nielsen’s impact to the team extends well beyond the score sheet. Josh Bailey, Nielsen’s teammate for the past five seasons, has seen firsthand the impact that Nielsen has on all facets of the game.

“He’s an all-situations player,” Bailey said. “You can put him anywhere and it’s going to benefit the players around him, because he makes them better. I think I’m a prime example of that. Playing with him has certainly elevated my game in the past and we hope to continue that. He’s a jack of all trades.”

Nielsen already has three two-assist games this season centering the second line and logging important minutes on the power play and penalty kill. His play has been so consistent for so long that it can be easy to overlook.

“Frans is one of those guys for me that goes under the radar,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “He’s so defensive-oriented and he plays against the other teams’ top lines. He’s not a very big guy, but he’s got great hockey sense, a good stick and he’s always in the right position.”

Nielsen is his own biggest critic. Pointing out the recent struggles the team has gone through, he can list a number of areas in his game that need work.

“I actually don’t feel like I’ve been playing as well as I should, especially 5-on-5,” Nielsen said. “We’ve had some success at times, but our line hasn’t dominated games like we’ve wanted to. We’ve spent too much time in our own end instead of the attack zone.”

Nielsen is one of Capuano’s most trusted forwards on the penalty kill, which has allowed just four goals all season and ranks fourth in the NHL at 89.5%. Nielsen is counted on to win draws and put pressure on the opponent, but he credits the success on the PK to having four players on the same page communicating to execute the kill.

“It’s about being in shooting lanes and being in the right position out there, both with your body and your stick,” Nielsen said. “I think everybody’s been doing a great job. We’ve been getting the puck out of the zone when we’ve had the chance. I like the feeling we have on the PK.”

In addition to his role on the penalty kill, Nielsen is also heavily relied upon in power play situations. Through the first few weeks, he played the point on the top unit, distributing the puck to the forwards down low. With the addition of Lubomir Visnovsky to the lineup, Nielsen has shifted to the second power play unit, playing the forward role alongside Keith Aucoin and Josh Bailey. So far, being around a different cast and in a different role hasn’t fazed Nielsen, who scored on the man advantage in the early stages of Monday’s game vs. Carolina.

“He’s a jack of all trades,” Bailey said. “He plays the point on one unit and he comes in on the next unit and plays up front and scores a goal. We try to key on him with getting the puck on the breakout as well. He’s so good at getting the puck into the zone and getting the attack started.”

Always considered a more cerebral player, Nielsen downplays the transition.

“I don’t think it’s too big of a change,” Nielsen said. “Even when I was on the blue line, I still had a pretty free role on the power play. I was all over the ice. Sometimes (Brad) Boyes or John (Tavares) would come up, and I’d go down to the slot. We’d move around a lot and I think I’ll do the same now. If a defenseman goes down in the corner, I can drop back to the point. I’ll still be all over the place and play different positions out there.”

Nielsen’s defense-first playing style as well as scoring ability will be counted on for the Islanders to reclaim their early-season success. When the Islanders get back to the winning ways, it’ll probably have a lot to do with the veteran flying under the radar.

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EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 50 37 9 4 163 112 78
2 FLA 51 31 15 5 141 112 67
3 NYR 52 29 18 5 148 134 63
4 TBL 51 29 18 4 137 118 62
5 BOS 51 27 18 6 149 136 60
6 DET 52 26 18 8 130 131 60
7 NJD 53 26 20 7 119 120 59
8 NYI 50 26 18 6 135 126 58
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10 CAR 53 24 21 8 129 141 56
11 PHI 50 23 18 9 119 130 55
12 MTL 53 25 24 4 142 142 54
13 OTT 52 23 23 6 142 164 52
14 TOR 50 19 22 9 116 134 47
15 BUF 52 21 26 5 119 137 47
16 CBJ 54 21 28 5 135 168 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Tavares 47 18 19 -6 37
K. Okposo 48 12 25 -9 37
B. Nelson 50 20 11 0 31
F. Nielsen 50 15 16 -2 31
M. Grabovski 50 9 15 1 24
J. Bailey 49 8 15 4 23
A. Lee 50 7 14 0 21
N. Leddy 50 3 17 -12 20
R. Strome 39 5 13 -8 18
N. Kulemin 50 5 9 6 14
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
J. Halak 12 11 4 .917 2.28
T. Greiss 13 6 2 .927 2.32
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