After a breakout 2015-16 season with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Andrew Nielsen shot up Toronto Maple Leafs prospect rankings. Nielsen continued to produce offensively when he joined the Toronto Marlies to begin his professional career in 2016-17, quickly becoming a fan favourite with his flashy numbers.
Although he produced at an impressive pace, Nielsen’s play defensively was lacklustre. Entering his sophomore season with the Marlies, look for Andrew Nielsen to make strides in his own zone in 2017-18.
Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: Andrew Nielsen
Coming off of a 70 point, 122 PIM season with Lethbridge in the WHL, Andrew Nielsen was looking to prove he could score at the next level in his rookie season with the Marlies. Making his debut with other rookies such as Travis Dermott and Dmytro Timashov, Nielsen separated himself on the scoresheet.
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 207 pounds, Nielsen possesses a hard shot and good offensive instincts. The big defender was able to score an impressive 39 points in 74 games, finishing fourth in AHL defensive scoring by rookies. His 14 goals and 25 points were good enough to lead the Marlies in scoring from the blueline as well, grabbing the attention of the casual fan who may not have seen any Toronto Marlies games.
Over the off-season, some fans have gravitated towards Andrew Nielsen as a premium defensive prospect. With the offensive, flashy numbers, there has been some fan speculation that Nielsen could be an option for the Leafs defensive corps this season.
Although Nielsen had a great rookie year offensively, his freshman campaign was rough in his own zone. Over the year, Nielsen was referred to as a “power play specialist” at times. His skating and defensive play need to improve significantly for him to become the top-four defenceman some fans have suggested.
Profile (via EliteProspects)
Weight: 207 lbs
NHL Draft: Third Round, 65th Overall in 2015 by Toronto
Contract (via CapFriendly)
Signed back on November 23, 2015, Andrew Nielsen is still on his entry level contract. In true National Hockey League fashion, entry level contracts can become quite confusing, especially when factoring in slides.
After playing in Lethbridge in 2015 and the Marlies in 2016, Nielsen’s ELC has slid twice. As such, his cap hit has fallen from $700,833 to $697,500. He still received his $92,500 signing bonuses each of the last two years, although, due to the contract slide, was not paid his base salary.
This is the first season that will burn a year off of Nielsen’s entry level contract. He will receive a base salary of $650,000 if he plays in the NHL, or $70,000 if he plays in the minors. He also receives a signing bonus of $92,500, the final signing bonus of his ELC.
In 2017-18, Nielsen also has the potential to make $257,500 in performance bonuses if he were to play in the NHL for an extended period this year, which is currently unlikely.
Andrew Nielsen proved his offensive worth a year ago at the American Hockey League level. Entering his sophomore campaign, Nielsen will be tasked with improving his skating and defensive play edge closer to an NHL job.
Some have compared Nielsen and his current skill set to former Leafs defenceman, Cody Franson. Franson is notorious for having a big body with limited mobility and consistent offensive numbers, though his totals have dropped off in the last couple of seasons with the Buffalo Sabres. Nielsen’s offensive touch, with a lack of foot speed and defensive play, seem to be quite comparable. In fact, both are third round picks, with Nielsen being drafted 14 spots ahead of Franson.
At just 20 years of age, however, Nielsen has time to develop. He may not well rounded like Travis Dermott, who will be looking to push towards a regular NHL gig in training camp, but Nielsen has a skill set that is intriguing to Leafs management.
Whether the native of Red Deer, Alberta flourishes in 2017-18, developing in his own zone and improving his mobility, or falters in his sophomore year, Nielsen has time to become an NHL defenceman. With three years to go before becoming a restricted free agent, the Toronto Maple Leafs can afford to be patient with Andrew Nielsen.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images