Wings veteran Frans Nielsen in uphill battle for spot in the lineup
Detroit — In a way it was a promotion. But it's still a bleak picture for Frans Nielsen.
The Red Wings veteran forward was rotating onto a spot on the fourth line by the end of this week, not certain of an Opening Night lineup spot — but at least there was a chance.
It was an improvement over when training camp began last week, when Nielsen appeared outside the lineup entirely, given how the teams and lines were initially set.
Nielsen is coming off a poor season. He knew improvement needed to be shown heading into this season.
Coach Jeff Blashill has consistently been positive discussing the way Nielsen has gone about business this week.
“Frans has done a great job of controlling what he can control, and that’s his effort, his attitude and his play on a daily basis,” Blashill said.
The Wings’ lineup is far from cemented.
Darren Helm (unfit to play) has been out since the second day of camp, and his availability for Thursday’s regular-season opener is unknown.
Evgeny Svechnikov (unfit to play) is in a similar position after suffering an apparent arm/shoulder injury during the team’s first scrimmage.
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Mathias Brome, an undrafted free agent, has surprised enough to the point where he appears a lock for a lineup spot.
All those ingredients might have Blashill essentially deciding between Nielsen and Adam Erne, potentially, for opening in the lineup, if Helm is unavailable.
“Frans is like the other guys on the team, he has to keep earning that ice time,” Blashill said. “He has a great attitude, he’s been a great pro. I have a lot of respect for him as a person and what he’s done in his career.
“We have a lot of camp left and the competition continues. Frans is in competition for one of the 12 spots. The competition isn’t over unless they (the competing players) let the competition be over with their play. If guys want to earn spots, they can grab a spot (with their play).
“We’re looking at it and we’ll see how it’s going to start on Jan. 14.”
Blashill has been working Brome on a line with Luke Glendening and Vladislav Namestnikov.
When each forward is playing to the top of his caliber, this has the potential to be an effective two-way line, supplying both offense and defense.
“Brome’s a guy who can make some plays,” Blashill said. “We wanted to see how he would play off of Namestnikov. Glenny provides a lot of the engine, a lot of the forecheck in that group, and Glenny ends up finding his way to a lot of ice time because he is a winning hockey player.
“So if you’re on that line, you’ll ultimately be in situations where you are playing against other team’s good players. We have to see, defensively, can Brome handle that?”
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New season, new hope
Veteran forward Valtteri Filppula has been accustomed to winning teams and playoff seasons in his NHL career.
So, last season's loss-infested Wings' season was difficult to stomach.
"It was tough," Filppula said. "You always want to do well and for a chance to make the playoffs, and early in the year we were out of the playoffs. It's hard, hard for everybody. It doesn't matter if you've been around a while or not.
"I wasn't happy with the way I was playing, and everything ways on you. But it's a part of sports and not everything goes your way. You have to make the next day better."
With the Wings' off-season acquisitions making for a deeper and more experienced lineup, Filppula is optimistic better days ahead.
"We've had a long off season, a long rest, and we're excited for the year," Filppula said.