No Need To Jump The Gun On Nino Niederreiter

How was that for some hockey this weekend? The 2012-13 NHL Season did not start as it was supposed to, but there sure was a lot of hockey to watch. I watched a total of six games from Friday night to Saturday night, and I loved every second of it.

Let’s see. I got to watch RPI vs Ferris State. I recommend this for as long as there’s no NHL hockey. The production quality is incredible. The game is clearer than AHL hockey, no comparison. I got to watch the entire 2012 Ice-Breaker Tournament, featuring Islanders prospects Anders Lee and Robbie Russo on NBC Sports. Notre Dame won. And, of course, I got to watch the two Bridgeport games to kick-off the 2012-13 AHL Season.

Unfortunately, I found technical difficulties with both games (caught the last 1.5 periods of Game 1, and lost connection after the second period of Game 2), but hockey is hockey, and the Islanders affiliate showed some positive signs.

The Bridgeport Sound Tigers finished opening weekend at 2-0 after a 6-4 win over the Connecticut Whale, and a 4-2 win over the Providence Bruins, and although I would love to give a full-game analysis, I cannot because I didn’t see all of it.

What I can tell you is that I saw a lot of positive developments from our Islanders prospects. We haven’t connected the words “positive” to “Nino Niederreiter” in recent memory, but there’s good news. He looked fantastic this weekend.

Nino Niederreiter: the Islanders first-round (5th overall) pick in 2010. He’s totaled 2 goals and 1 assist in 64 career NHL games, which includes a dismal 2011-12 Season. Nino scored 1 goal in 55 games during his first full season as an NHL player, which led to Islanders fans labeling him a bust, another “mistake” by General Manager Garth Snow. It was tough to watch.

His role was confused. What was a 5th-overall pick doing in the NHL if he was going to be lined-up with Marty Reasoner and Jay Pandolfo for an entire season? Why was Nino averaging 10:06 of ice time per game? Granted, his play wasn’t anything thrilling, which could best be highlighted by his despicable -29 rating, but still…was it his fault?

I mean, we have tried to make excuses to help us sleep at night. Nino was going to play on the 4th-line so he could become accustomed to the defensive ways of the NHL, even though his line was probably the Islanders’ biggest weakness of the 2011-12 Season. How about Nino was too good for Juniors, so he had to be in the NHL. Some of us even said that Nino’s play proved he was a bust, and Garth should have never picked him over, say, Cam Fowler. His one goal came in December, and that was his only point over the next four months. I hate to make excuses for players, but was it ever so obvious that he just was not being used right?

“I didn’t know exactly what kind of player I should be. I tried to be a grinder instead of being the skill player I always was.” – Nino as quoted in Newsday

The article in Newsday also mentions that Cappy might not be so happy with those comments. Oh well. Get over it. Nino is a scorer. The sooner Cappy understands that, the faster we can see Nino play in a role made for him. Sure, his two career NHL goals may not reflect that, but that’s what he is.

What would happen if the Islanders had John Tavares centering Pandolfo and Tim Wallace on a regular-basis? How ridiculous does it sound if I were to tell you Steven Stamkos was playing seven minutes per game….wait. That happened already, and then Barry Melrose was fired, and then Stamkos became a 60-goal scorer. As a matter of fact, ex-owner Len Barrie of Tampa labeled Stamkos a bust, and had agreed to trade him to the Rangers, only to be get a slap from GM Brian Lawton, who wanted no part of that deal.

Anyways, Nino was playing with washed up grinders on a consistent basis. His regular linemates also scored 1 goal apiece, so you can tell that they weren’t a very productive bunch, yet we faulted Nino. We said he couldn’t play the game. We dismissed all of his success in Juniors, and his minor success in the AHL. Remember, in the AHL and WHL, Nino played the role of a 1st-line winger. He excelled.

Now, two games into the 2012-13 AHL Season, Nino has starred. He has been the starting left winger for the Sound Tigers, and has responded with two goals and two assists.

Yeah, I know it’s been two games. I know it’s the AHL. I also know I’m seeing Nino playing the way he was meant to play. Although Nino was always around the net last season, he never had the players around him that were capable of, at least, moving the puck around. His linemates Casey Cizikas and Colin McDonald have been playing better than Reasoner and Pandolfo ever have next to Nino. Nino’s goal against CT Whale came when speedy Kirill Kabanov surged down the ice only to set up Nino in the slot for a one-timer. Nino buried it. When have you ever seen Nino receive that type of support, even if it was from the developing Kabanov?

His net presence is also a huge strength, and it was how he scored a goal against Providence. His redirection of Calvin de Haan’s shot beat Hutchinson. It was Nino playing to his strengths. It was Nino doing what he does best.

Also, have you seen this move? Nino takes the puck on the side boards, cuts to the slot, and fires a low wrist-shot. Have you seen it? Because I’ve seen it several times over these past two games, and let me tell you something. He has an unbelievable wrist shot. It’s heavy. His release is very quick. It’s something he’s tried to do in the NHL, but never had the space to do it. In the proper role, Nino’s finding his space.

Look. It’s two games. It’s minor-league hockey. Nonetheless, Nino is performing. After the first two games, no one is complaining about Nino failing to connect. No one is scratching their heads. The only thing we want now is NHL hockey. When the NHL begins, maybe Nino has a spot on the Islanders roster, but it better be sure that he’s playing the role he was drafted to play. If not, it doesn’t make sense, and we will be feeling just as miserable as we did last year. Let Nino play to the reasons why we drafted him, and I promise you that Islanders fans will not be disappointed.

Follow @ChrisTriants

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About the Author: Writes at Islanders Op-Timism. Islanders Season Ticket Holder who tends to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hofstra Graduate currently working at Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl & Associates. I definitely want to end up working within the world of hockey. Blog: www.IslandersOptimism.com E-Mail: ChristopherTriantafilis@gmail.com Twitter: @ChrisTriants

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  1. jethro09 says:

    Nino has been rushed by Snow and was a tremendous disappointment last season. He has a long way to go before being ready to be an NHL regular. He can start with his skating. He needs to grow into his frame a bit. He needs to catch up to the pace of pro hockey.

    I don’t care how many goals or points he puts up in the “A” before the NHL season starts. He needs to stay in the “A” all year and properly develop and not be handed a roster spot on the isles because they need his cap number to get to the salary floor.

    • ChrisTriants says:

      I agree that his skating is what needs the most work. He has solid offensive zone awareness, but at many times, his skating was very very slow, and it was noticeable. When he had the puck, it appeared as if he had cement blocks for skates.

      Also, yes, ideally he would benefit most by playing an entire season in the AHL. I don’t think the idea of bringing him to the Island was to increase the cap hit, though. I think he was sincerely expected to make an impact for this team. A lot of the problem last season was that he was obviously too young to play in the AHL, and although he was handed a roster spot, it’s still hard to argue that things might not have been different if he was playing in the proper role. I wouldn’t say he was “rushed” because, frankly, a lot of people considered him to be a Calder candidate. Everyone was calling for him, and unfortunately, he found himself injured (and out of shape) at the beginning of the season. I mean, he came into camp out of shape, which was pretty embarrassing, but his fault, and his fault alone. Probably put him in the dog house, especially when he wasn’t producing. Still, I’m sure no one thought Nino would be as limited as he was, nor did we foresee his terrible season.

      I think we will see Nino in the AHL for as long as it makes sense. The Islanders should not thrust him into the NHL again unless a) he becomes a better skater and b) he plays in a scoring role, and not on the 4th-line with Reasoner and Pandolfo. Granted, last season he obviously didn’t know what it took to play at this level, and to go back to his being out of shape, he still has some maturing to do. Let him earn it if we see him at all in the NHL this year.

  2. RobJ74 says:

    Garth is a man of his word. He told Nino is will play for the Isles NHL team so thats what he did. Regardless of how he plays and who he plays with. What an idiot move by Garth. The Isles make me effing crazy. I hate being an Isles fan. But I am

    • ChrisTriants says:

      Agreed. That also factored into it. Snow made a promise, and maybe he shouldn’t have. Either way, no one expected Nino to tank the way he did, but yes, he shouldn’t be making promises to an 18-year old. Nino should have had to earn it. In the mean time, it would definitely ease some of the hurt if we can watch him play well over in Bridgeport.

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