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Red Wings Player Grades: Frans Nielsen

Nielsen had an off-year at even strength, but his overall contribution was just below expectations.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Boston Bruins Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Player Profile

Born: April 24, 1984, Herning, Denmark

Height, Weight: 6’1”, 188 lbs

Position: Center

Contract: 4 years left at $5.25M (UFA in 2023)


The 2017-18 season was Nielsen’s second with Detroit after signing as a free agent. Prior to playing for Detroit, he spent his entire career with the Islanders.

The Dane has been known to be a quietly effective player throughout his career. He’s one of those players who doesn’t typically get as much praise as he deserves because most of what he does to help the team is not very flashy.

He can be relied on to make the smart play, and he rarely makes bad mistakes.


Heading into this season, I expected him to play either 1C or 2C for Detroit. I didn’t see Zetterberg playing a full season for the third year in a row, and I was unsure about how Larkin would play at center after his tough year last season.

To be clear, Nielsen is clearly a 2 or 3 center in the NHL, so I am evaluating him based on that.

Fair expectations for Nielsen this year were for him to chip in offensively while matching up against the other team’s best players. His Power Play Offense was the highest on the team based on Dawson Sprigings GAR model last season, so he was expected to continue to be a big part of our power play.

Performance Compared to Expectations

First of all, Nielsen ended up playing a 3C role, due both to the ascendance of Dylan Larkin and the ability of Zetterberg to somehow play 82 games.

Nielsen contributed 16 goals and 17 assists, good for sixth on the team in points, although 30 points behind Dylan Larkin who led the team.

I’m going to use two charts to show Nielsen’s performance this season. The first is Andi Duroux’s fantastic Tableau visualization that combines stats from Corey Sznajder, CJ Turturo, and Corsica.

All stats are 5v5 unless otherwise indicated. The stats are represented by a 0 to 10 scaled with 5 being the mean, and a standard deviation of +/- 2.


We can see that Nielsen’s numbers, while not amazing, were pretty close to what you would expect. His offense was mostly slightly below average, but his defensive impact was above average. He also was above average in zone entries with possession, which is a major problem for Detroit.

Emmanuel Perry, who runs Corsica, has created a WAR model (Wins Above Replacement). If you are curious about all the details, you can read about it here.

If you want to play around with Sean Tierney’s Tableau visualization of Manny’s WAR stat, here is the link.

The components that Manny uses for his War Model are as follows (in the order they appear for Nielsen from left to right):

Defensive Shot Quality
Offensive Shot Rate
Defensive Shot Rate
Offensive Shot Quality
Penalties Taken
Penalties Drawn

Chart: @ChartingHockey; Data:

According to this model, Nielsen’s overall game was the fifth most effective for Detroit’s forwards. Since this statistic is cumulative, I also looked up the Red Wings forwards’ WAR/60:

Chart: @ChartingHockey; Data:

Nielsen stays in 5th when accounting for TOI, although there is a group of five players that are all very close to each other following the top three.

Unfortunately for Luke Witkowski, grit is not included in this model. Also, I have a feeling people will have questions about Larkin being so low. I plan on doing a closer look at this model for the forwards and the defense like I did with the GAR model last year, so I’ll dig into that there.

If you’re curious if Nielsen continued to provide offense on the power play, he was first on the team for forwards with the man advantage in P/60 for players who played more than 50 minutes on the power play at 5.64 (good for 44th in the NHL among forwards). Zetterberg was next for Detroit with 5.25.

This raises the question: Why was Nielsen 10th in PP time for Detroit forwards? Nielsen performed well on the Islanders on the power play. He did the same last season with Detroit. His rate of power play scoring was much higher than other players who had much more PP time than he.

Grade: C-

Nielsen performed close to expectations overall. His even strength offense was very disappointing (3rd lowest 5v5 P60 in the forward corps). He is still very good defensively, and he contributed at a high rate on the power play. Taken as a whole, Nielsen performed below expectations, but not greatly so.


What Grade Do You Give Nielsen?

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