Edmonton, Alberta — To have reached this far into his career, to have lasted this long, it humbles Frans Nielsen.
Nielsen was drafted by the New York Islanders in the third round in 2002, and it wouldn’t have been a surprise if he had never even made an NHL roster.
But Sunday in Edmonton, Nielsen played game No. 700 of his career.
Nielsen, 33, was a little taken aback by the milestone.
“You don’t even realize it when you play that many games,” he said. “It doesn’t feel that you’ve been in the league that long.
“It’s kind of scary.”
At one time, when he was just a young pup with the Islanders, it was Nielsen seeing veteran players reach those types of milestones.
Now, it’s the other way around.
“It really does remind you how fast the time goes,” Nielsen said. “Everyone who just plays one game in this league should be proud. It’s such a special league, and it’s an honor to be here, at 700 games.
“It’s a lot. Absolutely. I’m very proud.”
Never a flashy player who put up big offensive numbers, Nielsen has spent his career with two teams being a two-way player who can fill many different roles, on both special teams and any of the four lines.
Signed to a six-year contract worth $31.25 million (with a salary-cap hit of $5.25 million) in 2016, Nielsen had 17 goals and 24 assists last season. He’s behind that pace thus far this season, entering Sunday’s game with four goals and no assists in 14 games.
He added a goal in the 4-0 victory over the Oilers at Rogers Place on Sunday.
Coach Jeff Blashill recently put Nielsen between veterans Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader, a line that Nielsen is optimistic will thrive at both ends of the rink. All are effective defensive players, but have produced offensively in their careers, too.
“Of course we want to produce more, we’ve struggled with that,” Nielsen said of the line’s offensive troubles. “But we have spent a lot of time in the offensive zone and we’ve created (chances), it’s just we have to believe in what we’re doing and keep doing it and over time you’re going to have success playing the way we do.
“I like the three games we’ve been together. Both sides of the puck, all three of us are responsible.
“But we want to be able to create offensively.”
If Blashill continues to keep his lines together, it’ll be interesting to see how the fourth lines develops.
Luke Glendening centering Martin Frk and Scott Wilson has had some fine moments when they’ve been on the ice the past few games, both from an offensive and defensive standpoint.
Frk, with his shot and offensive ability (he also scored in Sunday’s win), brings an offensive element some NHL teams are now looking for on the fourth line. On Tuesday against Arizona, Frk changed the game’s momentum in the second period with a big shift.
“With his work ethic and battle level,” Blashill said. “That line was really, really good. Frk dipped a little bit in his confidence but his confidence is building back up.
“To me, his confidence is everything. When he’s confident, he’s in way more control.”
Glendening, also, has already reached his season goal total of three last season — and he played 74 games last season.
“His play has been excellent, that’s what I’ll say for sure,” Blashill said. “I’ve been clear with him with what my expectation is in terms of how I want him to play. He’s had a fairly defined role.”
Goaltender Jimmy Howard returned to the team after missing Saturday’s practice because of a funeral. But the talk of that particular workout was fill-in goaltender Kenny Cameron, who plays at the University of Alberta.
Cameron made several nice saves during drills, and definitely got the Red Wings ready for their next game.
“What a great job he did,” Blashill said. “It was great to be able to get somebody of that quality. I thought (retired goaltender, now television analyst) Chris Osgood was going to do it but he bailed on us. He must be getting too old, I guess.
“This guy filled in better than Ozzie would have done, so it was good. I told him (Cameron) to give us some confidence (when Cameron was making all his saves).”
Red Wings at Canucks
Faceoff: 10 tonight, Rogers Arena, Vancouver
Outlook: Vancouver (7-4-2, 16 points) is one of the NHL’s surprises thus far, defeating Pittsburgh, 4-2, on Saturday. Rookie BrockBoeser had three goals in the win and leads the Canucks with 13 points.