As we mentioned yesterday in our discussion about Martin Hanzal, the Edmonton Oilers may be dealing from their center ice position to address the defense. Talks surrounding Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have been abundant in recent months, so it’s safe to assume that he’ll be a possible departure this summer.
If Edmonton makes the move, they need to find some defensive cover to replace the young veteran. New York Islanders center Frans Nielsen, a pending UFA who is 32 years old, may be a good band-aid option for Edmonton in the immediate future.
Why Is He Out There?:
The Islanders are going to be in a bit of a bind this off-season. Kyle Okposo is a free agent and will need to be re-signed by the team. If he isn’t re-signed, the Isles will need to find another forward to play with top center John Tavares.
In addition to Okposo, key role players Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, Ryan Strome and Shane Prince need new contracts. Defensively, the team found it’s solution to the Travis Hamonic issue, but they’ll still need to add another top-four option. All this must be accomplished with minimal cap space at their disposal.
The Isles may walk away from a player like Nielsen to keep their younger pieces and to upgrade in other areas.
What Does He Do Well?:
At 6’1” and 190 pounds, Nielsen is more of an average sized player than anything else. He doesn’t bring much of a physical element, but he more than makes up for it in the speed department. In New York, he was able to ride on John Tavares’ wing from time to time.
Nielsen is described as an extremely smooth and smart playmaker. His ability to distribute the puck is, without doubt, his best asset. He has tremendous vision and is able to set things up as kind of a quarterback in the offensive zone. His scouting report on The Hockey News says that he “Makes his linemates better in the offensive zone.” The Oilers have a few players capable of that, but adding another cannot hurt.
In addition to being a strong set-up man, Frans Nielsen provides a strong two-way presence on the ice. He is very aware defensively and is one of those centers who can take on the top forwards of the other team. Throughout his career in New York, he provided cover for John Tavares in this regard.
Nielsen is also capable of playing on both special teams units.
Where Will He Play / Where Should He Play:
If Edmonton acquired Frans Nielsen as a free agent this summer, he would immediately slide in as the third line center on the team. He’d be the top offensive presence in the bottom six and would likely get one of Benoit Pouliot and Patrick Maroon on his left wing.
If Edmonton moved Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a distinct possibility, Nielsen would be able to slide up and play on the second line in place of Nuge.
Ideally, Nielsen would be a second line center on most teams. That means, judging by where we have him slotted in Edmonton, that he would be a perfect fit for the Oilers and would not be cast in over his head.
What Will He Cost:
As a free agent, Nielsen will cost the Oilers nothing but money. At 32 years old, I’d be weary of offering the veteran a longer term deal, but suspect a desperate team may be willing to do so. My offer to Nielsen would be around three years and $4,500,000 per year. I suspect he could get 5X5 from a team, which is too much.
If the Oilers are going to deal from the center ice position this summer, then they will need to find cover. Frans Nielsen is pretty solid veteran candidate who checks off a lot of boxes for this team. He’s a strong offensive option, can play a two-way game, and he’s been part of rebuilds before.
If the Oilers go the UFA route, then Nielsen is a guy to consider this summer.