VANCOUVER, BC — Since the announcement that AHL hockey is returning to Abbotsford, Ryan Johnson has not stopped working to fill out this team. The Canucks are looking for success right out of the gate, and it’s a strong group coming together that can contend for the Calder Cup.
However, that isn’t to say that Abbotsford has solely focused on short-term success. Along with their returners and new veteran acquisitions, Johnson has gone on to sign young talent for the Canucks, giving many of them their first shot in professional hockey.
One such player is Tristen Nielsen. The Fort St. John, BC native was a former first-round pick in the WHL bantam draft back in 2015, and now, six years later, inked his first professional contract with the newest hockey team in the lower mainland. There’s a lot to like about his game and clearly, GM Johnson agrees with that sentiment.
Here’s a look at what we can expect Nielsen to bring to the Canucks.
One aspect of Nielsen’s game that sets him apart is his speed and compete level. It’s something that he’s shown ever since he was drafted by the Calgary Hitmen. The center converted winger was pulling off stuff like this in his draft year.
What’s impressive to me here is not only his foot speed but his effort to fight off the defender and outwork him for the puck. Nielsen then has the composure to stay on his feet and tuck it in with his backhand. Keep in mind, this was as an 18-year-old. How about after?
— Vancouver Giants (@WHLGiants) February 11, 2019
Oh yeah. Nielsen has only gone on and improved as an overager. This play starts with an excellent defensive effort to strip the puck in neutral ice, before getting the separation with two efficient strides. That’s all the gap he needed to roof it and seal the deal.
His motor, coupled with his awareness in all three zones, makes him a bonafide two-way threat. He isn’t going to be a floater: you can bet that Nielsen will be forechecking hard and breaking up plays on the defensive end. And, if he gets the puck, he can pull away in an instant from opponents on tired legs.
Though he might not possess the high-end skill or finesse like some of his peers, his hard work and energizer bunny-like energy help generate a lot of chances. It seems that his gas tank never runs empty as well, as he’s noticeably outhustling everyone each and every shift. Coming into the WHL, scouts described him as a bit of a loose cannon, a ton of energy albeit unfocused at times. His experience with the Hitmen and later the Giants helped rein it in a little, giving direction to his hard work. It’s a tool that will certainly translate to the AHL, even if the results aren’t showing right away.
Goal Scoring Ability
Even though he might not have the hands of Elias Pettersson, Nielsen can pull off some absolute worldies.
Here he puts his patented speed on display, changing lanes and cutting in on the first defender before an outside-inside gives him the room to rip one by the goalie. His awareness at top speed is remarkable and knowing how to create the space for a shot is something that shows Nielsen’s innate offensive talents. He’s able to score in a wide variety of ways, too.
In this clip alone, Tristen scores a wrister from the slot, a chippy goal off the rush, and an absolute clap bomb from the high slot. His versatility in his offense gives the Canucks options of how to deploy him. I could see Trent Cull slotting him in as puck retrieval on the power play, or on the right-wing side as a one-time threat.
Scouts were concerned about his consistency in his draft year, which could have been one of the reasons why he ended up undrafted. In the 2017-18 season, Nielsen spent the first half of the season generating chances with his energy but not finishing them, while the second half of the season saw him come back from a hand injury and absolutely tear through the league. Nielsen finished his season with 35 points in 49 games, and that trend continued throughout his overage seasons in the WHL. With the Giants, Nielsen really stepped up in his last two seasons, producing over a point per game and finishing with 97 points in 73 games.
What also impressed me was that Nielsen didn’t shy away from the grittier areas of the ice. Though he may be undersized compared to his peers, at 5-foot-10, the forward was a common sight along the boards or driving the net for a goal.
— Vancouver Giants (@WHLGiants) April 7, 2019
He also showed an impressive awareness of where to be on the ice to score. There were a couple of moments where I noticed that he drifted into a soft area, pouncing as soon as a loose puck came his way. It’ll be something to keep an eye on as he heads into his first pro rookie season, to see if he can replicate this at a higher level of play.
There most certainly will be an adjustment period for Nielsen. The AHL is going to be a step up in competition for him and the offense might not always be there. However, I believe Tristen’s got the tools to succeed, and there’s simply too much talent there for him not to figure it out after a while.
Oh, and by the way?
Tristen Nielsen with the 1st period natty hatty ??? pic.twitter.com/NvPFj97dJ0
— Vancouver Giants (@WHLGiants) March 29, 2021
He can grip it and rip it.
It’s not just the stats that tell the story about Nielsen. On and off the ice, he’s been a leader for the Giants. His work ethic and style of play have naturally been something that coaches can point to and use as an example to fellow teammates. His energy each and every shift helps establish a culture that doesn’t give up on any play. The drive and passion that Nielsen has shown, even as he’s gone undrafted, has made his game improve year after year.
It was a natural choice to take up the mantle of assistant captain as the Giants headed into the 2020-21 season. Young leadership is something that no team can get enough of, judging by how the Canucks signed the captain of the Giants Alex Kannok-Leipert shortly after.
The Vancouver Giants have announced their leadership group for the 2020-21 season. Alex Kannok Leipert is back for his second season as captain, while fellow over-agers Tristen Nielsen and Eric Florchuk will serve as alternates.
— Vancouver Giants (@WHLGiants) March 26, 2021
It’s hard to truly quantify intangibles such as leadership, but it’s a very good sign when he’s not only liked by his teammates but is an active participant within the local community. Nielsen has not shied away from taking a leadership role in the greater Vancouver area, participating in charity fundraisers, and even spending time at daycares.
Great to see our reigning leading scorer/humanitarian of the year @tristen_080 out in Ladner today spending some quality (socially distanced) time with kids from a local daycare. pic.twitter.com/B954p3JA0O
— Vancouver Giants (@WHLGiants) September 2, 2020
As good of a person as he is a hockey player, it’s hard not to root for Nielsen to succeed. He’s meant a lot to the hockey community in the lower mainland, and many fans will be eagerly watching as he takes to the ice with the Abbotsford Canucks to make his professional debut.
Tristen Nielsen is someone that I expect to earn a contract in Vancouver after a while. There’s just a lot to like about his game. His speed and work ethic feels like a perfect fit in any NHL team’s bottom six, while that offensive potential is there to add an extra sweetener. There are size concerns, but in a sense, he reminds me a lot of Tyler Motte, someone that Vancouver fans will be very familiar with.
For now, though, he starts with an AHL deal. Nielsen will be looking to prove that he belongs not only in Abbotsford, but provide an undeniable case to Vancouver management that he deserves a look. He will be an instant fan favorite, a BC native that played major junior in the area. His presence will go a long way in establishing a locker room that never fails to compete, day in and day out.
Best of all? His cellys are a thing of beauty.
— Vancouver Giants (@WHLGiants) February 10, 2020
Michael Liu covers the Abbotsford Canucks for Field Pass Hockey. You can interact with him on Twitter @FPHCanucks.
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