Located in the Eastern Time Zone of Canada, the Toronto Maple Leafs and a good portion of the fanbase talk mostly about players who are in the immediate surrounding area. It makes perfect sense, as it is the information available to most, and easy enough to obtain in regards to those players. When it comes to Leafs prospects, most of those media outlets and fans have talked about the AHL’s leading scorer and Toronto Marlies own, William Nylander. Or those same scribes will discuss OHL top-three scoring machine, Mitchell Marner, truly an awesome player and one fans should be ecstatic about. If they run out of stories on the aforementioned, they then turn to Quebec and look at another prolific offensive threat, (and recent returnee from the World Junior Championships) Dymtro Timashov.
Now, don’t get me wrong, all of those players are worthy of the attention but it is time to shift focus to another burgeoning prospect. Let us all take a trip to Lethbridge, Alberta. No, not literally as I have zero desire to go somewhere that is actually colder than southern Ontario and zero budget to pull this off.
Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft with the 65th overall pick, let Leafs Hub introduce to you, by way of Red Deer, Alberta, Andrew Nielsen.
This is where the story for today, and the future, truly starts to take shape. You see along with all of those other recently selected prospects who are leading (or near the top) of their leagues, so is Andrew Nielsen. Standing in at a prairie boy sized 6’3 inches tall and weighing 212 pounds, you might think this Lethbridge Hurricanes player is leading in something like penalty minutes or hits. You would be incorrect.
Andrew Nielsen is LEADING the Western Hockey League in scoring for defencemen, he is a part of the Maple Leafs Organization and in November of 2015 signed a three-year entry level deal with the club.
Through 39 games played thus far in the season, Nielsen has compiled nine goals and 34 assists for 43 points. Adding to this outstanding total, Andrew has also put up 66 penalty minutes and is currently a plus 18 on the Hurricanes team that is first in the Central Division of their conference.
Recently, I reached out to the 19-year-old Nielsen to discuss how his season was going in Lethbridge in an attempt to share his success with those Leafs fans in the Eastern part of Canada.
Leafs Hub: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, let us start off with how it felt being picked by the Maple Leafs last summer?
Andrew Nielsen: It was a pretty surreal feeling. Being drafted by a NHL team was something that I was looking forward to and working towards my entire life.
LH: When the Leafs selected you 65th overall, they saw certain aspects of your game they clearly liked. How would you describe your game?
AN: I would describe my game as a solid two-way defender. I like to think of myself as a player that a coach can rely on in any situation, whether it’s killing a penalty, up or down by a goal in the final minute of the game. Someone who can be put out against the oppositions best line to shut them down, or a player who can quarterback a powerplay.
LH: Following that description up, what would you say is your greatest attribute on the ice?
AN: My biggest asset would be my vision on the ice and my passing ability. Also believe that I can control the game and have a heavy shot from the backend.
LH: Watching your statistical progression in each year, where does your confidence in your game come from?
AN: I have always believed in myself as a player, I just needed that reassurance that I can play at this level and succeed.
LH: Once your name was called by the Maple Leafs, are a player’s expectations dictated by the round they are selected in?
AN: I don’t think so. Once you have your ‘foot in the door,’ that is all that you need. Just to be part of an organization in the NHL is a blessing, and it’s up to you what you do with that opportunity.
LH: As 2015-16 Season continues what personal and team goals do you have in mind, if we may ask?
AN: Personal goals, are to continue being a plus player for our team. Be a leader on and off the ice and continue to produce for this group. From a team standpoint our goals are to continue being a force in the Eastern Conference and to go as deep in the playoffs as possible.
LH: Who was your favorite player growing up and who do you attempt to emulate on the ice now?
AN: Favorite player growing up was Dion Phaneuf. As for a player I like to emulate it would be Jay Bouwmeester.
LH: We got to see you down in London, Ontario at the Rookie Tournament. What was said to you after you were returned to Lethbridge?
AN: The Leafs Development Team just told me to continue progressing my game and getting stronger and become a force on the ice. They also wanted me to improve my defensive game and become a solid all-around player for my team.
LH: You incorporate a tough style of defence along with your offensive skills. Is it hard playing that brand of hockey in this new age of sport and not be a hinderance to your team in the form of penalty minutes?
AN: I think there is a line when it comes to that type of stuff on the ice. You have to realize who is officiating the game, what type of game they are calling and let the point in the game dictate your actions too. In the end, you still want to be physical and as dominant as you can be while not taking a bad penalty at the wrong time.
LH: Where do you see yourself playing next season?
AN: Would love to be in the NHL (laughs). Playing in the AHL is a realistic goal at this point.
Special thanks to Andrew Nielsen for taking the time out of his schedule to answer some questions from the team at Leafs Hub. We hope to keep in contact with Andrew during the rest of his 2015-16 season, in order to bring updates on his play as the Hurricanes make a run into the WHL playoffs.
Remember Leafs fans, keep your eyes on the Western Hockey League this year, there is more talent heading in our direction and if you keep asking “where is our big, mobile defencemen with a heavy shot?”
We know where to find him.