With the emergence of Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson as top 6 forwards along with the signings of free agents Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski there was a lot of discussion over where they would fit in the line up and it was suggested that to accommodate these players Frans Nielsen could possibly be on the trading block due to his higher value coming off a career year and would be more likely to bring back a top 4 defenseman in a trade than perhaps someone like Josh Bailey or Michael Grabner. While there is no doubt that in a hypothetical trade Nielsen would be more desirable to another team, the Islanders should not consider putting him on the trading block and that he should remain an Islander going into the new season.
Since his debut Frans Nielsen has been one of the most dependable players on the roster with consistent play that has been improving season on season with his last one being the best one yet with 25 goals and 33 assists for 58 points in 80 games. While players like John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, rightfully, get the plaudits and the spotlight it’s Nielsen who’s been the most underrated player with a solid 2 way game that often goes unappreciated outside of Long Island, especially given the fact a lot of his play has been on appalling teams at the bottom of the standings in recent years.
Quite possibly his biggest contribution is in the shootout with a career average of over 50% which is one of the best in the NHL. While his skills as a center may be criminally underrated, his “Danish Backhand of Judgment” move is famous throughout the league with very good reason. While some may think that a few shootout goals have little effect on the outcome of a season it is in fact the complete opposite, just ask New Jersey who went 0/13 in shootouts last season. If they had won only around half of those shootouts they would have made the play offs so the ability to be a regular scorer in the skills competition really can make or break a season sometimes.
Going forward, even with the new additions to the team over the summer, Frans Nielsen is a very important part of the offense. It is very likely that he’ll be the 3rd line center with his wingers unknown at this point as there’s a number of people who could yet be the 3rd line wingers this season. Without being relied on to provide the bulk of the offense it is very likely that Frans will once again thrive and put up similar numbers to last season (possibly 20g/30a) and this would show how deep our offense would be if we have third liners putting up around 50 points. Without doubt there is nobody better for that role this season than Nielsen and his defensive capabilities will allow Capuano to utilize the third line in defensive situations and use the second line with Grabovski and Kulemin in more attacking situations, something that brought the best out of them in Toronto.
With Tavares-Grabovski-Nielsen-Cizikas the Islanders have one of the best group of centers in the East and Frans Nielsen is an integral part of that group. While Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome are tipped to be the second and third line centers in the future, they aren’t at that point in their development yet and for the immediate future they are best served on the wings while they improve their game and will be ready for increased responsibilities once Frans Nielsen starts declining in a few years or so but for the meantime he should continue to be a key part of the Islanders offense with Garth Snow looking to use marginal players as possible trade chips to bring in a defenseman.