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Detroit Red Wings Player Preview: Frans Nielsen

New Jersey Devils v Detroit Red Wings Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Detroit Red Wings signed center Frans Nielsen as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2016. The Dane had spent his entire career with the New York Islanders, and established himself as one of the most under-rated two way players in the NHL.

Nielsen continued that last year, turning in a fairly strong season, especially considering the overall weakness of the team.

Player Profile

Born: April 24, 1984, Herning, Denmark

Height, Weight: 6’1”, 188 lbs

Position: Center

Contract: 5 years left at $5.25M (UFA in 2023)

Player Stats

Games Played: 79

Goals: 17

Assists: 24

Score-Adjusted CF%: 49.07%

Last Season

Frans Nielsen had a better season overall than many seem to give him credit for. One of the reasons for this is his contributions don’t always show up directly on the scoreboard.

Prashanth Iyer put together an excel tool that compares player’s seasons to the ten most similar seasons of other players using GAR. Here’s what that looks like for Nielsen:

Data: @DTMAboutHeart; Tool: @iyer_prashanth

Nielsen’s overall season last year was comparable to some good names, and additionally all the players except one were younger than Nielsen.

Nielsen’s overall GAR last season was 2nd best on the team, behind Henrik Zetterberg, and slightly ahead of Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar. He doesn’t provide the even-strength offense they do, but his even-strength defense of 4.8 was better than the rest of the team, forwards or defense (Tatar was second at 3.9).

Looking Forward

Frans Nielsen should have another strong season next year. The last 2-3 years of his contract are the years that people are right to be concerned with, although I think his style of play will make him still a valuable NHL player for those years (likely overpaid though).

If Dylan Larkin can step up and provide another strong option at center, that should help both Nielsen and Zetterberg. Nielsen will again be Detroit’s shutdown center who can put up some points as well. His even-strength offense was lower last year than his previous seasons would have suggested, even with age-related regression:

The 2012-13 season was the last NHL lockout, and since that season contained a sharp decline in games played for all players, the decline in EVO that season is not surprising.

The two previous seasons (2014-15 and 2015-16)have seen Nielsen provide about half the EVO than the prior seasons, so it’s not like he hasn’t regressed in that department, but the sharp decline again last season, combined with both the poor offensive season overall and the fact that his other components did not have the same decline. In fact, his total GAR last year was the highest it’s been since we have numbers for it (2008-2009).

I expect Nielsen to have another strong season overall and improve his even-strength offense numbers. Since his PPO was the highest on the team, if Detroit can improve their power play to even close to league average, his point totals will be greatly helped by that.