TLN Top Prospects 2016: #15 Andrew Nielsen

TLN15

If there’s a Leafs prospect from the 2015 draft who’s driven up expectations and changed minds the most, it’s probably Andrew Nielsen. Look no further than the fact he’s comfortably cracked our top twenty list for the first time, despite Toronto’s prospect depth increasing even further with some notable additions this summer.

The Votes

Jeff Ryan H. Shawn Ryan F. Adam Dom Jess Katy Readers
16 15 N/A 11 11 15 14 19 13

Player Bio

Position Hometown Height Weight Hand 2015 Team Acquired
D Red Deer, AB 6’3 207 L Lethbridge Hurricanes 2015 Draft (3-65th)

The Stats

 SEASON TEAM Age LEAGUE GP G A TP NHLe PIM +/-
 2010-11  Red Deer Steel Kings Bantam AA 13  SCABL 28 6 15 21 115
 2011-12  Red Deer Northstar Chiefs Mn Mgt 14  AMMHL
 2012-13  Red Deer Elks Midget AA 15  SCAHL 34 8 17 25 124
 2013-14  Red Deer Chiefs Midget AAA 16  AMHL 35 3 15 18 34
 2013-14  Lethbridge Hurricanes 16  WHL 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
 2014-15  Lethbridge Hurricanes 17  WHL 59 7 17 24 8.23 101 -9
 2015-16  Lethbridge Hurricanes 18  WHL 71 18 52 70 19.96 122 30
 2015-16  Toronto Marlies 19  AHL 5 0 2 2 14.1 0 -2

Projection Stats

pGPSn pGPSs pGPS% pGPS PPG pGPS PP82 pGPSr
21 (15/18) 14 (11/18) 66.7% (2/18) 0.43 (14/18) 35.30 (14/18) 28.70 (5/18)

  • pGPSn: The number of matches between the subject and the player-seasons (one season by a single player, i.e, John Tavares 2008 OHL) in the historical sample.
  • pGPSs: The number of statistical matches that became NHL regulars. This is determined by playing 200 NHL games.
  • pGPS%: Simply s divided by n, this is the percentage of statistical matches that successfully became NHL players.
  • pGPS PPG: The NHL points per game of successful matches.
  • pGPS P82: The same as pGPS PPG, but stretched over 82 games.
  • pGPSr: A bit of a hybrid number, this pGPS Rating combines the percentage and points per game to produce a number that includes both likelihood of success and potential upside.

Based on the success of his historical comparables, Nielsen is projected to become a second pairing defenceman.

To learn more about the Prospect Graduation Probabilities System, check out this post.

The Eye Test

Nielsen was billed as a physical blue-liner when he was drafted, someone who had a fairly solid defensive game but perhaps limited offensive potential. But keep in mind at draft time he was coming off a season with a terrible Lethbridge team that saw them win only twenty games. Still, his skating was (and still is) a bit of a knock on him – both in terms of speed and craftiness.

This past season he broke out offensively on an improved Hurricanes team, and it’s at least partly because he put in the work on those weaknesses. Nielsen mentioned to our pal Steve Dangle that he attributed some of this offensive jump by working on, well…his jump.

“I worked a lot on my first step and that allowed me to get open a lot more and be able to find those shot lanes, and even finding guys on the ice was a little easier this year.”

As Seen On TV

The Buildup

Nielsen was viewed as a questionable pick at the time he was drafted, and Kyle Dubas even admitted he’d never watched him play in his draft year. He was a pure Mark Hunter selection. 

With fans always a little anxious about the team returning to putting a premium on grit, it’s great that Nielsen has now been able to establish himself as one of the team’s best defensive prospects outside of his physical play. So how did he get to here since the draft?

READ MORE: Toronto Picks Andrew Nielsen at 65th Overall

Well, first off, Nielsen was perhaps initially underrated and seen as a “team toughness” pick among a 2015 Leafs draft class that otherwise leaned toward small skill guys. His pedestrian production and a boatload of penalty minutes in his draft-eligible season raised some questions about whether he might be a Burke/Nonis-type pick. But in hindsight, it’s clear he had plenty of room to grow and was hindered by a weak club, and that’s likely what Hunter recognized when he selected him in the third round. This past season, Nielsen proved it by blowing the doors off production-wise, finishing third among defencemen in points in the entire WHL – second among draft-plus-one players only to Ivan Provorov.

At the end of the season, he even managed to get into a handful of games for the Marlies, nabbing a pair of points in five games down the stretch.

Next Season

While it’s impressive that Nielsen was able to pour in those big numbers in The Dub and even get a cup of coffee with the Marlies, he still has some work to do in order to become a pro. He’s got a fine shot and can straddle the line nicely in the offensive zone, but his skating still needs work or he’ll struggle with speedsters in the AHL on the defensive side of things. This is probably where his early comparisons to Phaneuf make some sense.

READ MORE: Maple Leafs Prospects Watch: Andrew Nielsen could join the Marlies soon

When it comes to physicality, though, there really isn’t anything to worry about. Nielsen’s known to play with an edge, and already has a pro frame at 6’3 and 210 pounds. We won’t run into any questions about adding strength or needing to eat more with this prospect, in contrast to some of his fellow 2015 draft classmates. For Nielsen, it’s about continuing to up that mobility and proving it at a much faster level with the Marlies this fall. If that doesn’t work out, he could be returned to Lethbridge again.

Closing Thoughts

There’s nothing that we’ve covered here that says Nielsen is going to be someone who makes an impact on this organization in the short term, but that’s fine. We have to keep in mind he’s a third-round pick, and turning him into an NHL player at all down the road would be pretty big a stroke of luck for the Leafs.

Still, from where he was a year ago, Nielsen has taken an important step in that slow climb, and as such, has moved into our rankings among some very nice company.

The Rankings So Far

  • ‘Well, first off, Nielsen was perhaps initially underrated and seen as a “team toughness” pick among a 2015 Leafs draft class that otherwise leaned toward small skill guys. His pedestrian production and a boatload of penalty minutes in his draft-eligible season raised some questions about whether he might be a Burke/Nonis-type pick. But in hindsight, it’s clear he had plenty of room to grow and was hindered by a weak club, and that’s likely what Hunter recognized when he selected him in the third round. This past season, Nielsen proved it by blowing the doors off production-wise, finishing third among defencemen in points in the entire WHL – second among draft-plus-one players only to Ivan Provorov.’

    SO I guess here’s my question. Seeing his progression and how well he did, perhaps a bit more faith should be given with draft picks? Perhaps the scouts, specifically Hunter, may have more information and a better resume to make decisions vs. those who grade. Not a shot at those who grade, but the aggression shown towards the Leafs draft this year, when players like Nielson showed that sometimes fancy stats don’t tell the entire story. Maybe instead of being aggressive and finding ways to dislike players that you’ve never really seen, put the trust in a guy who seems to have a pretty great history with identifying talent? I mean, the blogging community heralded Nikita Korostolev as a stud sleeper (no one talks about that anymore), yet here we are and he’s not anything better than he was before. Maybe those guys who are drafting know a bit? Maybe the eye test sometimes is greater than the stats, if done by the right people?

  • @Ryan

    Wasn’t even directed at you per say, but there are some, writers on this site and the others, who seem to believe they have all the answers, talk in absolutes and act like, despite not really actually watching prospects in depth, feel they know the answers. Its frustrating as a fan.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to rant, just a good outlet.

    • No worries, I wasn’t taking it as an attack. Last year’s draft was Hunter’s first so it’s reasonable if that class was heavily scrutinized, but I think he established himself well as a guy who knows what’s up and uses a variety of tools to grade prospects. That’s why I wasn’t in any hurry to rip this summer’s draft haul. Actually after delving into some of the names from this June it seems the Leafs did pretty well, and guys like Greenway, Brooks, Grundstrom and Korshkov are especially intriguing.

  • Stan Smith

    “With fans always a little anxious about the team returning to putting a premium on grit”

    I for one was worried about them forgetting about size completely, and was happy when they picked Nielsen. I understand the whole talent over size idea but you can’t ice a complete team of players 5′ 10″ and 175 lbs regardless of how skilled they are.