Frans Nielsen is the type of versatile forward that every team wants: smart, skilled and superb defensively.
Not only is he one of the most underrated players in the NHL, his cap hit of $525,000 certainly makes him one of the best bargains.
Should he hit the open market next summer, plenty of GM's will be clamoring to give the heady 27-year-old Danish center the sizeable raise he deserves but, heading into his contract year, Nielsen said he wants to remain an Islander.
"I'd love to stay here for many more years," Nielsen told Newsday after a recent workout at the Islanders' practice facility in Syosset.
Nielsen has been a vital member of the team's young core since the rebuilding process was in its infancy and he'd like to see it through.
"I think it will be the most amazing thing to have been here since Day 1 of this rebuild, to go through all those tough times, and turn it around and win a Stanley Cup, hopefully very soon," Nielsen said. "I think that would make it even more fun to win."
Nielsen is not a flashy type--he posted a career-high 44 points (13 goals, 33 assists) last season--but he's a vital cog in the Islanders' offense and special teams.
He flourished on a line with speedy Austrian winger Michael Grabner and workhorse power forward Kyle Okposo and formed a threateneing tandem with Grabner on the team's penalty kill. Nielsen finished with a league-best seven shorthanded goals; Grabner was right behind him with six.
"I hope we have a chance to start together again," Nielsen said of his linemates. "We definitely had something good going there."
Regardless of who he's playing with, Nielsen knows he must step up with another strong season to lead the Islanders. He took three weeks off after last season to recover from a concussion-a mild one, from which he feels 100% recovered--but then went right to work. Last month, he got himself ready by participating in training camp with the local team in his hometown of Herning, Denmark. Bag skates and everything.
"To play my game, I've got to be well-conditioned," he said. "If I'm playing against other team's top lines, I know they are going to have more talent and skill than me. So I've got to be in great shape."
Nielsen also understands the importance of stepping up as a leader, not just through his play but through his voice. Nielsen may seem reserved but he can be as fierce as any on the ice.
"I'm more quiet in the locker room, but I'm pretty emotional on the bench. I get p***ed off," he said. "I definitely talk a lot out there on the ice. We can say good things to each other, but I can also give guys s***. We expect a lot out of each other."
Nielsen also expects a lot out of himself. Contract year or not, he wants the team to take a turn for the best.
'It's an important year for me, the team and the organization," he said. "I'm not really going to think about the contract or anything else. I'm just going to show up doing what I need to do."