Red Wings likely to lean on Frans Nielsen more with Zetterberg retired
Traverse City — If there’s one player who appears will see an increased role in Henrik Zetterberg's absence, it’s Frans Nielsen.
Nielsen will likely play on the power play, and probably playing on a line with Gustav Nyquist and Darren Helm, could get more offensive opportunity.
Now, don’t expect any scoring titles. But after reaching 33 points (16 goals) last season, seeing something closer to the 52 points (20 goals) Nielsen had his final season with the New York Islanders in 2015-16 before signing with the Red Wings could be possible.
“I see him as one guy, and I’ve said lots of guys will have those responsibilities (left by Henrik Zetterberg), one guy whose minutes can go up,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “If he earns his way on the power play — he hasn’t had tons of power play minutes — that’s an easy way for production to go up. He certainly made a statement on that last year, he did a good job when he went on it.
“We’ll see. But certainly he’s a guy I do think his minutes will expand.”
It also wouldn’t be surprising to see Nielsen earn an alternate captain ‘A’ on his jersey.
The Wings aren’t likely to replace Zetterberg as captain quickly, but will likely add another ‘A’ alongside Justin Abdelkader and Niklas Kronwall.
Now in his third season with the Wings, Nielsen is more comfortable leading this younger group.
“I’m feeling more at home here, for sure,” Nielsen said. “I’m starting to feel more like it was when I was in New York. You know all the guys now and you’re not afraid to talk in the room, that kind of stuff.
“Missing Henrik, I’m for sure one of those guys that has to step up sometimes and talk.”
Nielsen likes the idea of playing with Helm and Nyquist, and the different attributes they all bring to a line.
“I like playing with Helmer, you can trust Helmer every night,” Nielsen said. “You’re going to get an honest effort from him. He rarely has a bad game with his compete level and how hard he plays every night. From playing against him, I know how tough he is to play against with his skating and never-give-up mentality on pucks.
“It’s been an issue for us the last couple of years scoring goals, so with Nyquist, we are trying to spread the goal scoring a little bit all over the lineup. With Helmer, the way he works, and having that on one side and then having Gus’ skill set on the other side, hopefully it can be a good combination.”
Nielsen made the playoffs with the Islanders his final season on Long Island. He’s missed the postseason dearly the last two seasons with the Wings.
“It’s no fun,” Nielsen said. “We finally got there in New York and you get a taste of how fun it is to be there, you want to get to the next level year after year.
“Suddenly you find yourself a couple steps back again and looking up and it’s no fun. I really hope everyone went home all summer and had that same feeliing.”
Nyquist and goaltender Jimmy Howard are both entering the final year of contracts, and both said there have been no discussion of new deals yet.
Both said Monday they’re willing to let the season play out and see how everything develops.
If the season goes south for the Wings, both players would be interesting rental targets for contending teams at the trade deadline.
“I’m just living in the present,” Howard said. “I haven’t really given much thought of the future. I’ve been through it before. Whatever happens, happens.”
The Wings appear to have a growing nunber of forward prospects headed to the NHL in the next few years, which leaves Nyquist’s situation more uncertain.
“It’s a little different situation, but it’s not something I think about,” Nyquist said. “Every year I come in and just try to be the best player I can be. Hopefully, (I can be) a little more of a leader out there. It’s a big year for me and big year for the team.”
Abdelkader came up to Traverse City for the final two days of camp after being with his wife, Julie, for the birth of their first child, Jaxon.
“The first order of importance is making sure mom and baby were good,” Abdelkader said. “Once I knew everything was good and settled at home, it would be good to get up here and get some skates and be with the guys for the last couple of days and leading into the preseason.”