Nielsen could get shot on power-play unit

Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen (44) challenges New Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen (44) challenges New York Islanders center Frans Nielsen (51) for possession of the puck during the first period at Nassau Coliseum. (March 26, 2011) Photo Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

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Frans Nielsen's value to the Islanders at even strength and on the penalty kill is immense. The 27-year-old center has long taken pride in his defensive play, but he earned plenty of notice for his offensive skills last season.

That comes from the league-leading seven shorthanded goals and his 5-for-8 performance in shootouts. So Nielsen's presence on the first power-play unit for the Islanders on Saturday wasn't much of a stretch; he has the ability.

The bigger question, with the season 11 days away, is whether one of the Isles' most important forwards could handle playing on both special teams while also entrenching his reputation as a shutdown defensive center.

"If I want to be out there against the other teams' top lines, I can't be tired," Nielsen said Monday after the Isles' practice at IceWorks in Syosset. "You just have to be smart. If they want me on the power play and it's not working or something, you just get off the ice and let someone else have a shot at it. You can't overdo it."

Jack Capuano might be sorely tempted if a top power-play quintet with Nielsen on it performs as well as Saturday's did. It's the preseason, of course, but the 3-for-6 results for the power play, including a pretty goal by Nielsen, could have Capuano trying to get Nielsen as much ice time as possible.

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"When he first became a pro, he took so much pride in the defensive side of the puck," said Capuano, who coached Nielsen at Bridgeport for two seasons. "But for us, we want speed, we want explosiveness, and I have no doubt that Fransie brings that to whatever role he has."

Nielsen's importance also is a part of talks on a new contract, as his four-year, $2.1-million deal expires after this season. General manager Garth Snow and Marc Levine, Nielsen's agent, have had very preliminary discussions, but nothing more.

"I think it could be a big distraction to worry about that," Nielsen said. "I want to be here for sure. It would be great to be here through the rebuilding and then, hopefully, be here when we win a Stanley Cup."

Notes & quotes: G Evgeni Nabokov was part of the 20-player contingent that traveled to Calgary Monday for Tuesday night's preseason game against the Flames. It will be Nabokov's first NHL game since May 23, 2010.

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