The 1996-born Nielsen was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third round, 65th overall. The rookie standout defenseman was ranked 52nd among North American skaters on the NHL’s Central Scouting Services Final Draft rankings released in April. He was the fifth WHL defenseman selected in this year’s NHL draft.
“Honestly, I was speechless. I couldn’t have predicted any of that. I was honoured and blessed that I had my family around me to share the experience with them. It is kind of surreal getting to go to a team like that that has so much history. I’m just excited and looking forward to the next couple weeks,” said Nielsen from his home in Red Deer. “I didn’t expect to go that early, it was a shock. It was a relief just knowing that all the hard work and the process is finally falling into place. If you would’ve told me at the start of the year that I’d be a Toronto Maple Leaf on June 27th, I probably would have laughed at you.”
Nielsen completed his first season with the Hurricanes where he appeared in 59 games collecting 24 points (7g-17a) along with 101 penalty minutes. The Red Deer, AB product was second in defenseman scoring among the Hurricanes. The 18-year-old Nielsen scored his first WHL goal on October 25th in Prince Albert against the Raiders in a 3-1 victory and made his WHL debut January 18th, 2014 in his hometown against the Rebels.
The 6’3”, 210-pound rearguard was listed by the Hurricanes after going undrafted in the Western Hockey League Bantam Draft and the blueliner says being where is now is even a bigger honour, “I think it just shows that no matter what happens if you work hard and keep your mind focused on one thing and the end goal is getting where you want to be. Not being selected in the bantam draft was obviously hard at the time, I think it made me a stronger as a hockey player and as a person and I think it helped me get to where I am today.”
Hurricanes forward Giorgio Estephan was also selected in the NHL Entry Draft as the Buffalo Sabres took the 18-year-old with the first pick of the sixth round, 152nd overall.
The Edmonton, AB product had a standout sophomore campaign setting career highs in goals (23), assists (28) and points (51) more than doubling his previous career high totals. The second-year ‘Cane was originally selected fourth overall in the first round of the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft. Estephan was ranked 144th among North American skaters on the final Central Scouting list.