Frans Nielsen got married six weeks ago, so he's already had a good summer. The veteran Isles center believes his team had an equally good offseason.
"Yeah, it is," Nielsen said when asked Thursday if this is the most enthusiastic he's ever been heading into a new season. "I really like what we did. With [Mikhail] Grabovski and [Nikolai] Kulemin, I think we're going to be a really tough team to match up against because we'll have so much offensive firepower, so many guys who can step up and do it. I don't know what our roles are going to be, between me and Grabovski, but I think we're really similar players.
"I read a lot and they said they used him wrong when he was in Toronto, but I definitely remember him playing against Johnny [Tavares] a lot. He's really tough to play against. He can do both -- when you need him offensively, when you need him to shut someone down, he's a very effective guy."
The additions of Grabovski and Kulemin on four-year deals worth $20 million and $16.75 million, respectively, could have had a negative impact on Nielsen, who has been the Isles' top defensive center while also being called upon to be a productive No. 2 center behind Tavares.
Nielsen had a career offensive season in 2013-14, with 25 goals and 33 assists, but he believes the defensive side of his game slipped a bit. With Grabovski in the mix at center, the pressure is off for Nielsen to play the two-way game he enjoys.
"I never really thought about it, like I have to go out and produce," Nielsen said after joining a dozen Islanders players for an informal workout at IceWorks in Syosset. "I really have to do the things I did well last year, compete level and skating, like that. I know if I keep that going I'll pick up my points. Trying to remember what I did well last year is important. It's great to know that it's there, so many guys who can step up. Injuries are going to happen, so it's good to know if we're missing Johnny for two games, I can go in there, Grabovski, Nellie [Brock Nelson] -- there's depth there."
Nielsen has had Michael Grabner and Josh Bailey as linemates often over the past few seasons, and both of those wings had lengthy goal droughts last season. With the additions of Grabovski and Kulemin, plus some NHL-experienced forwards such as Jack Skille, Cory Conacher and Harry Zolnierczyk in camp, no one should be feeling terribly relaxed heading into the Sept. 19 start of the Isles' training camp.
"I think it's going to be really good, you need that," Nielsen said. "I don't know if everybody's a little too comfortable sometimes with their spot, even during the middle of the season. Now there's going to be guys in Bridgeport too who are just as good as the guys here. If someone doesn't play well I don't think they're going to hesitate to make switches and call up guys. Guys have to bring it every night or else someone will be here to take your place."