Red Wings' All-Star Frans Nielsen walking on clouds
Detroit — The day Frans Nielsen learned he was headed to the NHL All-Star Game, he was at a team dinner during the Father-Son trip earlier this month in Chicago.
General manager Ken Holland wandered over and told Nielsen about the honor — the game is Sunday in Los Angeles — with Nielsen’s father Frits sitting nearby.
Most players, when they’re selected to the All-Star Game, say they’re excited and overwhelmed by the honor — but deep down, would rather have the weekend off.
But talk to Nielsen for any length of time, and the sincerity about his appreciation of being selected for the first time is real.
All you have to do is listen to Nielsen talk about that moment in Chicago, and how his dad reacted.
“You could see in his eyes how much it meant to him,” said Nielsen, of his father, who coached the local hockey team in Denmark when Frans was a youth.
Nielsen’s voice cracked just for a moment remembering the entire scene.
“A real proud moment,” Nielsen said. “For sure one day, when I retire, it’ll be one of the highlights.”
Frits will be in Los Angeles, along with Nielsen’s wife, son, father-in-law and sister-in-law.
Essentially, whoever could make it over from Denmark or Sweden (his wife Moa’s side of the family).
“Unfortunately, my mom couldn’t make it. She couldn’t get off work,” Nielsen said. “But it’ll be quite a group there. It’ll be a long flight for a couple of days out there, but they’re excited about it, too.
“They wouldn’t miss it.”
Nielsen, 32, who’ll represent the Red Wings this weekend in Los Angeles, is legitimately humbled.
“It’s so hard to believe that you’re actually going," Nielsen said. "But, yes, I’m very excited, and to represent Detroit.
“Absolutely, it’s an honor. You watch these events since you were a kid. It’s going to be so exciting to be part of it. You get to represent an organization like this.
“Look at the list over the years (of Red Wings’ All-Stars) and there are some very good names.”
Add Nielsen’s name to that list.
Signed on July 1 as an unrestricted free agent, Nielsen left the New York Islanders to join the Red Wings in what’s been a successful partnership for both sides.
The Red Wings needed a savvy, veteran center to replace the Pavel Datsyuk, who returned to Russia to end his career.
Nielsen was on the Red Wings’ radar immediately.
“He was the first guy we contacted from the very beginning of free agency,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Both Ken (general manager Ken Holland) and I were on the phone with him and his agent and he was a prime, prime target.
“There weren’t many centers on the market other than Frans and Eric Staal (who signed with Minnesota).
“We felt it was imperative we get another center and it’s paid off for us.”
Nielsen may not have been a high-profile name to fans, but front office personnel and coaches knew how effective Nielsen is.
“If you talk to people around the league, at least coaches, he was a high-profile guy,” Blashill said. “They (the Islanders) played Tampa in the second round (last season) and I talked to Jon Cooper (Tampa’s coach) a lot about him (Nielsen). We watched him the whole second half of the year, I watched him that playoff series close, and we were real confident in the player we were getting.
“And it’s the player we got. Real efficient, smart, does good things with the puck, just a good, all-around player.”
Nielsen has 10 goals and 16 assists (26 points) while playing in all 49 games, with a minus-9 rating, in over 17 minutes of ice time a game.
“I had a slow start, but I’m starting to come around,” said Nielsen, who had played for Islanders his entire career before joining the Red Wings. “I’m figuring out for sure. It’s been up and down, just like the team. We’re starting to play some hockey lately, too."
Nielsen wasn’t giving much thought to participating in the All-Star Game.
“In the earlier years, it’s kind of been reserved for JT (John Tavares),” said Nielsen, of his longtime star teammate with the Islanders. “I haven’t really thought much about it. (This season) Henrik (Zetterberg) has had a good year and (Thomas) Vanek has had a good year, it wasn’t on my mind at all.
“I got a text from JT and I got one from Kyle (Okposo, another Islanders teammate now with Buffalo), both right away. He (Tavares) said it (All-Star selection) was well deserved and he was real happy for me.
“It was nice to get a text from him.
“It’s going to be fun to see those guys and spend some time with them, and hopefully meet a lot of hockey people out there, and have a good time.”
It’ll be special for Frans Nielsen, this All-Star weekend. But it’ll be a great time for his dad Frits, too.
“When Kenny told me I was going, he was probably more proud than I was,” Nielsen said. “He was pumped. But I don’t think there are any more people proud than our dads.
“It’s going to be special for him out there, too.”
NHL All-Star Game
When: Sunday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles
Red Wings: Frans Nielsen is the only Red Wing participating.
Format: There will be two divisional semifinals, followed by a championship game. Each game is played in a 3-on-3 format with two 10-minute halves.
Skills competition: Saturday, 7 p.m. (NBCSN)