Who Is Andrew Nielsen?
Nielsen, 20, impressed as the highest scoring defenceman on the Toronto Marlies last season. He is known for his physical play, booming slap shot, and long reach, but struggles in terms of lateral quickness and mobility. He offers a long reach thanks to his 6’3 frame, and was used as the primary power play quarterback on the Marlies last season.
Nielsen emerged as a real scoring threat by scoring at a near point per game clip as a 19 year old in the WHL, and this production is especially impressive for a big defenceman with plenty of strength. His scoring numbers last season were also particularly impressive for an AHL rookie, and between racking up plenty of points and penalty minutes, Nielsen keeps scorekeepers busy one way or another.
It is rare to find a defenceman with such an impressive size, strength, and skill combination, but Nielsen remains comfortably outside of the Top 10 largely because of his skating and defensive zone play. His offensive game is well ahead of his defensive game at this point, and a lack of mobility makes it difficult to cover opposing forwards at 5 on 5. His footwork remains rather sloppy, and improvement is needed in order to shut down top AHL forwards, yet alone NHL forwards.
Nielsen ranked as high as 15th on two ballots, including my own. He was also completely left off one ballot, and he just squeaked in at 24 on another. While there was a large variance here, he ultimately ranked in the top 21 on ten of the twelve ballots.
I ranked Nielsen at 15 largely because of his offensive skill set. He is still just 20 years old, and he continues to standout as a solid puck handler and offensive producer for a player of his size. He is strong enough to win puck battles and out muscle opponents in front of the net, and while he may be better off with sheltered minutes at 5 on 5, his heavy point shot is a major asset on the man advantage.
There is still time for him to make improvements in terms of his skating and defensive awareness, but he lags behind his fellow teammate in Travis Dermott in these areas. Positioning, gap control, and decision-making are of vital importance to NHL defenceman, and his lack of speed makes it increasingly difficult to get back into position and cover up for mistakes. Still, a strong physical game combined with an impressive offensive toolkit is a good framework to build on, and given that he is only 20, I am willing to be patient here and see if he can develop into a more complete player next season.
A Glimpse of Nielsen in Action
Puck Handling & Wrist Shot
Nielsen’s Patented Point Shot
Wrist Shot Goal
Defensive Lapse (Nielsen skates to the bench before the puck is cleared)
Andrew Nielsen via Elite Prospects
|2010-2011||Red Deer Steel Kings Bantam AA||SCABL||28||6||15||21||115||Playoffs||3||0||1||1||4|
|Red Deer Rebels White Bantam AAA||AMBHL||2||1||1||2||4|
|2011-2012||Red Deer Northstar Chiefs Mn Mgt||AMMHL||-||-||-||-||-|
|2012-2013||Red Deer Elks Midget AA||SCAHL||34||8||17||25||124||Playoffs||5||0||4||4||16|
|2013-2014||Red Deer Chiefs Midget AAA||AMHL||35||3||15||18||34|
|Red Deer Chiefs Midget AAA||TCQ-P||-||-||-||-||-|
The Big Picture
Nielsen jumped up three spots in this ranking to #19 following his rookie season in the AHL. Given his age, physical strength, and puck skill, this is a player with clear strengths that provide us with real reasons for optimism. Nielsen looks bound to head back to the Toronto Marlies this season, and he will aim to improve his footwork and become more of a reliable option in his own end.
With Ron Hainsey, Andreas Borgman, and Calle Rosen added to the organization, he will face plenty of competition to jump up in the depth chart. We will hope for and expect him to post impressive scoring numbers yet again, but his defensive game will be the clear question mark going forward.
Where do you rank Andrew Nielsen among Toronto’s Top Under 25 Players? Make sure to have your say in the comments.