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Free Agency Preview: Frans Nielsen

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The first Danish player to make it in the NHL is now ready for a payday. Do the Predators have room for him on their roster?

Florida Panthers v New York Islanders - Game Three Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Player Profile

Frans Nielsen is a two-way, top-six center that can perform at a high level in all four major situations within a hockey game: even-strength, power-play, penalty-kill, and shootout. His puck skills are sneaky good, his speed is underrated (though not All-Star caliber), and his shooting and passing are above average. He doesn't bring a terribly physical game and his face-off stats are not amazing, but he more than makes up for those limitations in all other areas of the game.

An incredibly dynamic forward, Nielsen has regularly been regarded as one of the most underrated players in the game. He receives constant praise coaches, players, and even the New York media. He has been instrumental in the growth of players like John Tavares, Anders Lee, and Kyle Okposo, and if the Islanders are unable to keep him this off-season, their entire team's performance will be affected. He's that indispensable.

And whoever lands Frans Nielsen this off-season could be looking at improving almost every aspect of their team for around $6 million/year.

Recent Stats

The Islanders signed Frans Nielsen to a 4 year, $11 million contract back in 2012 and boy did it pay off. They locked up one of the most underrated players in the entire league, while also securing a 50 point forward to help fortify their dangerous top two lines:

Year Games Goals Assists Points SH% ES Corsi%
2013-14 80 25 33 58 15.0 51.0
2014-15 78 14 29 43 8.9 52.5
2015-16 81 20 52 52 11.0 51.1

That's some incredible production from a guy who averaged around $3 million per year during the life of the contract.

It's clear that Nielsen isn't a 1C, 30 goal, 60+ point kind of player and that's ok. He's 32 years old and it would be foolish to expect much more out of what the Islanders got out of him. But most teams could use a solid, two-way center that can fill in a need on one of the middle two lines. And in that respect there may be no better value on the market than Frans Nielsen.

Where Would He Fit?

It's impossible to see a place on the Predators where Nielsen wouldn't fit. Danes fit anywhere, man. Nielsen would make the most sense on the 2nd line between Forsberg and Smith, giving those two the talent boost they need to step up their game. But I could also see him on the 3rd line with Arvidsson and Wilson, though it might be counter productive to remove Mike Fisher from that line, given the chemistry they've had of late. And while it may seem crazy, I could also see Nielsen on the top line. While he would have to abandon his usual position in favor of playing wing, he could do wonders to improve the consistency of the Johansen-Neal pairing. The years he played alongside John Tavares showed that Nielsen belongs on a line with elite talent. And all elite talent belongs on a line with Frans Nielsen.

If the Predators went for it, the lines would probably look like this:

Jarnkrok/Wilson-Johansen-Neal

Forsberg-Nielsen-Smith

Wilson/Jarnkrok-Fisher-Arvidsson

Watson-Sissons-Salomaki

The other aspect of Nielsen's game that I've yet to mention is his shootout ability. Over the last few seasons, Nielsen has gained a reputation as being one of the best shootout weapons in the entire league. But really, since he has been in the league, Nielsen is the best shootout weapon in the league. Since 2006-07, Nielsen has converted 42 for 82 shootout attempts, a 51.2% clip. Of those 42 goals, 17 have been the game-deciding goal. Over that time, he's been better than Jonathan Toews, Pavel Datsyuk, Zach Parise and several other shootout notables.

And he does most of his damage with his signature move, "The Danish Backhand of Judgement"

Any team could use such a lethal shootout weapon on their team, including the Predators.

Does It Make Sense?

It does if you don't already have two aging 2nd-3rd line centers tying up almost $8 million in cap money for next year.

Unless the Predators shock the world and trade or buyout Ribeiro, they don't go after Nielsen. And it's obvious that Fisher is in the plans for next year, so there will be no change there. In retrospect, if the Predators hadn't already signed Mike Fisher to a two-year extension last summer, they are probably in a position to go after Nielsen, hoping that he could take Craig Smith or Filip Forsberg or Colin Wilson to the next level. But the money's been spent.

So unless they move their way out of Ribeiro (and hopefully his cap hit), we have to watch some dumb team like the Blues or Jets or Wild actually make a smart move and land one of the better values in the free agent market.