Islanders Community Projection: Frans Nielsen

If you're new or haven't been visiting this week, what on earth is your problem? we're polling readers for your counting-stat projections on individual Islanders in 2010-11, the better to retro-gauge our "expectations" come report card time. Simply selecting candidates right now has been fun for me, because at this early stage of camp I'm trying to select guys whose usage this year will not be altered by non-injury events between now and Oct. 9.

...Which means it's Danish Love time: We know Frans Nielsen will be used in a primarily defense-first role this year, against the opposition's best lines. It's what happened last year, and it's why those who suffer from my Frans affliction watch closely whisper about him as a Selke candidate.

But, pray tell, with all those mean offensive stars to shadow, where does that leave time for Nielsen to get him some points? Does all work and no play make Frans a 40-point guy? Let's look at his career stats so far, and those of some similarly defensive-minded non-star centers around the league.

Defensive/ZoneShifting/Tough-Comp Centers

Because these guys vary quite a bit from team to team -- and because some teams can use their offensive stars (Getzlaf, Datsyuk, Richards, Toews) against the other team's best, I didn't stick to players within a narrow age range like I did with the Kyle Okposo and James Wisniewski posts. Because others are better at digging this stuff up than I am, I used Derek Zona's study (and theory) of tough-minute centers as a loose guide.

2009-10
Age
GP
G
A
P
+/-
SH G
PKtoi
Shawn Horcoff
31
77
13
23
36
-29
0
2:22
Manny Malhotra
29
71
14
19
33
+17
0
2:06
Martin Hanzal
22
81
11
22
33
E
0
2:06
Jay McClement
26
82
11
18
29
E
0
3:44
Samuel Pahlsson
32
79
3
13
16
-9 0
2:52
Frans Nielsen
25
76
12
26
38
+4
1
1:58

All of the above were cited in Zona's post as guys given tough minutes and defensive zone starts -- except for Manny Malhotra, who turned his defensive acumen in Columbus into a nice role on a contender in San Jose last year, then a nifty contract with the Canucks this summer. Drafted high and mismanaged by the Rangers, Malhotra's since recreated himself in that defensive/PK-type role. Turns out his recent counting stats are similar to Nielsen's -- as are most of those guys outside of Pahlsson, the oldest of the bunch.

Speaking of age, Nielsen's presence in this group also reflects the relative rarity of younger centers in this role. We tend to think of it as the "wise, grizzled veteran"-type role, Mike Sillinger personified. But sometimes guys like Malhotra (Marty Reasoner is another) back into it by being touted draft picks who don't pan out as typical "top-six" scorers during their early years. Having both natural skills and a good hockey head, they adapt and thrive rather than go on a Daigle-about.

And those guys are particularly important on teams that lack a Ryan Getzlaf or Mike Richards or Jonathan Toews -- offensive guys who can produce while handling the opponent's best. As the Islanders' top-scoring center, John Tavares is not ready for both roles (if he'll ever be).

So is Nielsen, entering his age 26 season and what will be just his third full season, poised for another increase in production? Or is the 30-40 point range what we can expect from him going forward? If that's where he stays, that's still not bad for a player in his role.

But if he can bump it up another 10-20 percent -- with some scoring wingers, say -- then that insane $525,000 cap hit Garth Snow signed him to becomes even more of a steal. (Note: Frans's UFA payday comes in summer 2012.)

Factors pointing toward an increase: Nielsen is still evolving, and last year was his first full season in the role. Plus, his teammates overall should be getting better.

Factors pointing against: His powerplay time isn't likely to increase -- and may indeed drop with the addition of James Wisniewski and a healthy Doug Weight, plus possibly a regular Rob Schremp and P.A. Parentau.

Frans Nielsen
Age
GP
G
A
Pts
+/-
SH
PKtoi
2007-08
23
16
2
1
3
+1
0
0:04
2008-09
24
59
9
24
33
-4
1
1:50
2009-10
25
76
12
26
38
+4
1
1:58

This is where you give us your guess for Frans in 2010-11. Although I'm an ordained minister in the Church of Frans Fanboy Club, even answers below 93 goals and 216 points will be accepted.

(More seriously, give us your GP, G, A, and Pts. projection.)

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