Nielsen notched a goal and a power-play assist in Thursday's season-opening 6-4 loss to Tampa.
A dynamic special-teams player imported from the Islanders in the offseason, Nielsen's been given the unenviable task of filling the shoes (well, skates) of retired superstar Pavel Datsyuk, who was the best two-way center in the league for more than a decade, He's no Datsyuk, but NIelsen is an accomplished two-way player himself and is off to a strong start; he's cleared 50 points in two of the last three seasons and has a good chance to do so again this year.
Nielsen recorded two blocked shots and just as many takeaways in Saturday's preseason finale win over the Maple Leafs.
No player will ever be quite like the great Pavel Datsyuk, a sure-fire Hall of Famer who the Red Wings lost to the KHL in the offseason, but Nielsen is at least similar in the sense that he's a defensively responsible forward capable of putting points up on the board. Detroit's biggest free-agent acquisition from the summer recorded 349 points (119 goals, 230 assists) in 606 career games with the Islanders.
Nielsen signed a six-year deal that has him slated to stay in Detroit through age 38. Even though Detroit rosters several big-name forwards, including Henrik Zetterberg, Dylan Larkin and Justin Abdelkader, that power-play unit desperately needs to be improved. Case in point, the Wings went 1 for 25 with the man advantage against the Lightning in the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Nielsen should help that cause, as he averaged 0.57 points per game over his 10 years with the Isles, and roughly 33 percent of that total took place on the power play. Early signs point to Nielsen remaining heavily owned in the majority of fantasy leagues next season.
Nielsen spent his past 10 seasons with the Islanders, amassing 20 goals and 32 assists in 2015-16. The 32-year-old has been able to play at least 78 games over his last three seasons and will likely share comparable time at center with Henrik Zetterberg.
Nielsen and the Islanders may part ways, Brian Erni of SNY.TV reports.
If reports are true Nielsen has turned down a contract with an AAV of $5.5 million. Would the Isles feel comfortable paying a 32-year old forward up to $6 million annually? That would seem unlikely. General manager Garth Snow may put the breaks on contract talks now and see what other offers Nielsen may attract in free agency before deciding whether or not to up his offer.