Chicago — Frans Nielsen says he is not satisfied with his performance so far in his first season with the Red Wings.
But that does not keep his coach and teammates from praising his efforts. And on Tuesday, Nielsen was named an all-star for the first time in his career.
“For sure, it’s something I’m very proud of and really excited to be a part of. You know, it’s an honor,” said the soft-spoken Nielsen. “It’s been a little up and down for me this year. The inconsistency is something, for sure, I have to work on. But, it’s coming around.”
Despite the lowly Wings’ difficulties in the first half of the season, which presents a dire threat to their playoff chances, their plan to replace Pavel Datsyuk is working out fairly well.
Nielsen and Thomas Vanek have combined for offensive production that rivals the 38-year-old Datsyuk’s last year, although some Red Wings may still look for Datsyuk to climb off the bench when they are in a pinch — as they have been so often this season.
And, of course, few — if any — are capable of accomplishing Datsyuk’s wizardry.
But Nielsen and Vanek have contributed considerably.
While many NHL players greet an all-star selection with mixed emotions, sometime preferring to rest from the games and the travel during the break, Nielsen said he is excited to travel to Los Angeles and participate.
“I watch them every year on TV, all the years I have been here,” he said. “And even as a kid, you watched them. So, yeah, it’s going to be really exciting. Really proud and honored to be part of that.
“You know it’s been a tough schedule and stuff,” Nielsen said, referring to the compacted schedule because of the World Cup of Hockey before the season. “But, especially being my first one, it’s something I’m really excited about.”
While Datsyuk’s departure put a bit of a crimp in any Red Wings’ plans to shore up their struggling corps of defensemen, the arrival of Nielsen and Vanek has clearly helped fill-in for the wily Russian, who starred for 14 seasons for the Wings.
Datsyuk scored 16 goals and assisted on 33 for 49 points in 66 games in his last season.
Nielsen has 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) in 40 games, and Vanek, who was also acquired as a free agent, has 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists) in 29 games.
On a pace for roughly 16 goals and 28 assists, Nielsen will have the fourth-best season of his 11-year career offensively — despite all of the Wings struggles, especially on the power play.
Nielsen has scored 20 or more goals in a season only twice in his career.
“I think it’s great. I think he deserves it,” said Vanek, who played with Nielsen in 2013-14 with the Islanders. It’ll be fun. I think he will represent the Red Wings in a good way and I’m really happy for him.
“He’s a great guy off the ice, so it’s easy to like him. On the ice, it’s the way he thinks the game. He thinks at a high level, and the success has shown here.”
Nielsen is among the better defensive forwards in the league, at times considered as a dark horse candidate for the Selke Trophy. He also is among the most successful performers in the shootout.
“Big congrats to him,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s been a real good signing for us and a real good player for us.”
Blashill said the all-star break is more important for mental recovery than physical, and that Nielsen’s fluid skating style should help him in the three-on-three play that now highlights the all-star weekend.
“He’s such a driven person,” Blashill said. “So I don’t worry about him mentally. I think he’ll be absolutely fine. And, it’s in L.A., so that’ll be a nice get away, too.”
Nielsen laughed when asked about the three-on-three, which some veterans regard warily as part of their all-star experience.
“It was, for sure, more entertaining watching it last year than in other years,” Nielsen said. “It seemed like guys were competing a little bit more.”
He said he enjoys the three-on-three overtime initiated in the NHL last season.
“But it’s going to be hard playing 20 minutes of three-on-three,” he said. “But it’s going to be fun.”