Niederreiter reflects on his year after the draft
The Swiss powerhouse led the Winterhawks in goals, despite playing 10 fewer games than his teammates
Thursday, 06.9.2011 / 10:48 AM ET / News
By Dyan LeBourdais
Would the Islanders select a forward with quick hands and smart vision or a puck-moving defenseman? Perhaps Snow would trade the pick. The tight-lipped Islanders General Manager never tipped his hand, but the question was quickly answered when he walked to the podium and selected 17-year-old Nino Niederreiter.
In an instant, Niederreiter became the highest-drafted Swiss player ever and one of the most Googled names on Long Island. Just over three months later and a few weeks after his 18th birthday, he became the youngest Islanders player ever to make his NHL debut at 18 years and 31 days and to score his first NHL goal at 18 years and 35 days.
“My first NHL goal was amazing,” Niederreiter said. “I will never forget that one. It was just a great play with (Michael) Grabner and Dougie (Weight). Sometimes I watch it on YouTube. It was just a dream.”
The power forward reached that major milestone in just his third game, but understood when the Islanders decided to send him back to his junior club, the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, after nine games.
“Playing with the Islanders was a great experience,” Niederreiter said. “It helped me a lot and I experienced what it’s going to be like to play up there one day. I learned what I had to work on to reach my goals. It’s a dream to be in the NHL, but I have to work hard to live that dream. I just put everything I had into this year so that I have a chance to make (the Islanders) next year.”
|Nino Niederreiter #25 of the New York Islanders looks to make a play against the Montreal Canadiens during a NHL game on October 27, 2010 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)|
Despite his ability to find the back of the net, the Swiss winger wanted to make sure he improved his overall skating, which he felt would give him the extra edge needed to become an everyday player in the NHL.
“My skating was the biggest thing I had to work on,” Niederreiter said. “That’s what I did and that’s what I’m doing right now. I stayed longer in Portland so that I could participate in a power skating camp and I think it’s going to help me a lot for next year.”
That’s not all Niederreiter’s improved during his second season in North America.
“I think I’m also mentally tougher,” Niederreiter said. “It kind of took me a little bit until I got that, but at the end, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of it and I think it’s helped me out this year.”
Helping Portland finish the regular season first overall in the WHL Western Conference with 103 points (50-19-0-3 record), “El Nino” took that new found confidence into the 2011 Ed Chynoweth Cup Finals against the Kootenay Ice. The Winterhawks were beaten by the Ice 4-1 in the best-of-seven series for the WHL title. Niederreiter scored 27 points (9 goals, 18 assists) in 21 playoff games.
|Nino Niederreiter, of the Portland Winterhawks, played in a Western Hockey League game against the Kamloops Blazers.|
Now that his season is over and has summer workout plans set, Niederreiter can offer a bit of advice to the next young crop of prospects hoping to see their face on the Islanders’ video board at this year’s draft party.
“Enjoy the day and take in as many of the moments as possible,” Niederreiter said. “Build off the excitement and come to mini-camp prepared with the goal of becoming a New York Islander, whether that’s next season or down the road.”