Frans Nielsen joined Wings to get 'pushed again'

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Wings forward Frans Nielsen, left, checks Penguins captain Sidney Crosby during the Team-Europe-Team Canada game at the World Cup of Hockey final at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Detroit – It wasn’t an easy choice for Frans Nielsen by any stretch.

Nielsen had been with the New York Islanders for 10 seasons, he and his wife loved the area, he was comfortable there.

But, then again, that’s what also spurred him to sign with the Red Wings on July 1, hours after the free agent market began.

“You could say I was in a perfect spot,” said Nielsen after Thursday’s optional practice at Joe Louis Arena. “It was tough, but at the same time, I felt it was time to try something new. I had a feeling sometimes it can be dangerous to be in the same spot for too long. You can get a little too comfortable.

“I felt I needed to get pushed a little bit again and see some new faces and voices.

“Sometimes change is a good thing.”

Blashill sees upside in new Red Wing forward Vanek

The Red Wings are thrilled Nielsen, 32, made the move, after signing him to a 6-year contract worth $31.5 million.

Nielsen, always considered a fine two-way center, neatly replaces Pavel Datsyuk in the lineup.

“When we went into the free agent market, he was our top priority,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We really wanted a center. Obviously with Pavel we lost a real good two-way center and we felt Franz was easily the best two-way center on the market.”

In 81 games last season with the Islanders Nielsen had 20 goals and 32 assists for 52 points, and a plus-1 rating. He had six points (three goals) in 11 playoff games.

“Watching him through the season and playoffs, he had great impact in every game,” Blashill said. “He could play against the other team’s best players and produce offense. That’s a rarity.”

The terms “underrated” or “underappreciated” or “under the radar” always seem to be attached to any story written about Nielsen, a testament to this low profile and lack of flashiness.

But Nielsen is fine with those terms.

“I don’t mind that,” said Nielsen, who along with other Islanders played in the shadow of John Tavares. “He took all the attention there and I just went out there and did my stuff. I’m not looking for much attention. I’m going to go out there and try to be the hardest working guy and play a good, solid two-way game. Not too flashy or anything. I’m not going to stick out too much.

“It (underrated) comes every year. I don’t know how long you can stay underrated.”

Don’t expect Nielsen to change his game wearing a Red Wings jersey. He figures what’s worked to this point will also work in Detroit.

“I don’t think I should change my game,” said Nielsen, who also happens to also be one of the more successful shootout specialists in the NHL. “I want to come in and be the same guy I was in New York. That’s the reason they (the Red Wings) wanted me. I want to be a solid, 200-foot player, good defensively and try to help out all over the ice, on the power play, penalty kill, 5-on-5, whatever.”

Blashill plans on starting the season with Nielsen centering Henrik Zetterberg on one wing.

The two know each other – Nielsen’s wife is from Zetterbrerg’s hometown back in Sweden – and Nielsen has long admired the way Zetterberg plays the game.

“It’ll be awesome,” said Nielsen, of the opportunity to be linemates. “I’ve known him for a lot of years, never played withi him, but a guy I’ve always looked up to.

“He’s a great player, just the way he plays, I always looked up to him and try to copy him a little bit. I’m excited for the chance to play with him.”

The chance to play in a hockey market such as Detroit, with its long history, was enticing.

“Detroit is a top place for any hockey player,” Nielsen said. “The history, Original Six, everything.”

Feeling good

Teemu Pulkkinen felt good enough after back-to-back games he was on the ice for Thursday’s optional practice.

Pulkkinen had shoulder surgery during the summer and stayed away from contact early in training camp.

“It was two hard games,” Pulkkinen said. “It’s never easy to come back after surgery. My game and my skating is not right there. I need more games and practice, so it should be good.”

The shoulder, though, felt good.

“I’m happy about the shoulder,” Pulkkinen said. “I didn’t know how the shoulder would feel in a game.”

Ice chips

Blashill will play close to a regular season lineup Saturday against Toronto.

“We’re going to give opportunities to different people on Friday (in Hamiliton, against Toronto),” Blashill said. “We want to take a step forward as a team, and as individuals get your game going as much as you can.”

…Blashill is confident Henrik Zetterberg (knee) will make his exhibition debut Saturday.

…Jimmy Howard will start Friday and Petr Mrazek on Saturday.

…Mike Green (undisclosed) will play Saturday after sitting out a few practices this week. Blashill said Green could have played this week, but the team wanted no nagging injuries heading into the season.

…Minor league defenseman Dan Renouf (upper body) will miss a week after getting hurt Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

…Goalie Jared Coreau stopped 30 shots against the Penguins and further impressed Blashill this preseason.

“He’s really taken steps forward,” Blashill said. “You want guys to say they’re ready through their play. He’s been immensely better over the last three years, a big guy like that who keeps getting better, it’s a real promising thing. He looks like a real prospect.”

Red Wings at Maple Leafs

Faceoff: Friday, 7 p.m., FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton

TV/radio: NHL Network; 950-WWJ.

Outlook: The Red Wings close out the exhibition season with two games against Original Six rival Toronto…G Jimmy Howard will start…The Red Wings are 4-1-1 in the preseason