Ever since the NHL instituted the shootout rule to settle ties, it has become a fan favorite around the league. There are plenty of shooters in the game who can pull you out of your seat with a slick move. There are fewer still who can do it and hit the back of the net with consistency. The New York Islanders have one of those guys in their lineup, and his name is Frans Nielsen. During his seven-year career in the NHL, Nielsen has established himself as a talented center who can make plays, set his teammates up for goals and kill penalties. But one of Nielsen’s greater strengths is in the shootout, where he has one of the best marks of any skater since the rule was put into effect in 2006-07.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of guys in the league who have good numbers in shootouts. You have guys like Pavel Datsyuk, Zach Parise, Jonathan Towes, Patrick Sharp and James Neal who have had great numbers in one-on-one competition. Datsyuk and Parise can beat a goalie with fancy moves and make him look foolish, which is nothing new for those two guys really. The thing is, though, they aren’t near the top in career accuracy in shootouts. The distinction of being the best marksmen in the shootout belongs to the Islanders’ Nielsen, who is the only one active player with 20 or more shootout attempts and has cashed in on more than half of them. In his career, Nielsen has scored on 25 of his 45 tries, which comes out to a 55.6 percent success rate.
Sure the other shooters in the league have more tricks up their sleeves for the shootout, but Nielsen is more deadly with his shots than anybody. Hell, most of the time, he succeeds in the shootout with the same move. Nielsen’s trademark move is a backhand deke, in which he fakes to the forehand, then goes backhand and roofs the puck over a sprawled out netminder. More often than not, the deke works, but sometimes he does miss, either high over the net or it gets blocked. Sure, the move works, but there is more Nielsen has started to throw at netminders. He’s started mixing up his repertoire by using a quick-release wrister as well. At times goalies are expecting the backhand, which leaves the five hole open for Nielsen to snap a wrist shot through for a goal.
With these types of skills, it makes Nielsen an almost automatic choice for the Islanders’ coaching staff when it comes time to pick their shootout lineup. This has an impact on opposing teams as well. The opposition knows that if they go to a shootout with the Islanders, they are going to have to contend with Nielsen, and that’s never been an easy thing to do. With the consistency of his scoring rate and the intimidation factor of having to face him, it makes Nielsen one of, if not the best, shootout men in the entire league.
Matthew Solomon covers the New York Islanders, NFL and MLB for Rant Sports! You can follow me on Twitter!