ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Wild had done their due diligence on Nino Niederreiter entering the 2010 NHL Draft, enticed by the Swiss forward’s size and skill.
Niederreiter ended up being selected fifth overall by the New York Islanders four spots, before Minnesota picked Mikael Granlund. It took another three years, but Niederreiter finally learned what it would be like to be drafted by the Wild.
After a frustrating season spent in entirety with New York’s American Hockey League team in Bridgeport, Niederreiter was acquired by Minnesota on draft day this summer in exchange for Cal Clutterbuck and a third-round pick.
“It’s really exciting,” Niederreiter said during the Wild’s training camp Saturday. “It feels like you got drafted all over again, kind of. You’re in a new team, a new situation. It’s the next step for me and I’m trying to do everything it takes to make the team here.”
Niederreiter is eager for his chance with Minnesota. After playing a full season for the Islanders at 19 years old, Niederreiter didn’t get the chance to compete in New York’s training camp last season. He reportedly requested a trade and then spent all of last season with Bridgeport.
Repeatedly on Saturday Niederreiter called his arrival in Minnesota a “fresh start.”
“There was obviously a lot of things going through my mind (when he heard about the trade to the Wild),” Niederreiter said. “I had a tough couple years, but I knew I had to do everything it takes to make it to the NHL. The trade happened, I was trying to stay focused and just felt like a new start. A fresh start and I’m really excited where I am.”
So is Minnesota.
There was a reason they had researched Niederreiter back in 2010. Niederreiter has the ability to turn into a prototypical power forward. One look at him on the ice and his 6-foot-2, 208-pound frame sticks out. Saturday he practiced on a line centered by second-year forward Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatley, a combination of big, skilled players.
But then Niederreiter surprises spectators as soon as he takes off.
“Yeah, he moves really well,” Coyle said. “We were doing stuff in the drill, tight corners and tight turns in the corners and he was flying in those too, out of the corners. He’s a really good skater for the size that he is. He’s got it all.”
In 74 games with Bridgeport last season, Niederreiter had 28 goals and 22 assists. The highest drafted Swiss player in NHL history, Niederreiter had a goal and assists in nine games with New York in 2010 before returning to his junior team to retain his eligibility. Playing mostly in a checking role, he had one goal and was a minus-29 in 55 games with the Islanders the following season.
“I learned so many things that year,” Niederreiter said. “It may be good times, bad times, but at the end of the day, I think it made me stronger overall. I know how to be a pro right now and I’m just trying to work.”
Niederreiter is working to make a strong first impression with his new team. The skills are evident.
“He appears faster than, for whatever reason, what I envisioned him,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “I like his first step. I like the way he goes to the net. His shot is silly hard.”
Niederreiter is one of several young forwards vying for an NHL spot. He knows nothing is guaranteed, but he said he was happy to be “back on an NHL team and trying out for the team.” With his fresh start, he is back to the proving ground of being a young player on a new team, just like draft day.
Minnesota sees Niederreiter — who turned 21 on Sept. 8 — as the talented offensive player he was when drafted, not the young player maybe forced into the NHL too early and then stuck in a lower-line role.
“Certainly one thing that I would really like to see from him is to be a real force in the offensive zone,” Yeo said. “Before I evaluate and before I jump to any conclusions with him, I kind of want to see how he is along the boards. I kind of want to see how he is protecting, shielding and escaping.”
Returning to the foundation of his game, playing more offensively sounds good to Niederreiter.
“I think I can definitely use my skill to do something out there,” Niederreiter said. “Obviously I had a different role when I was in New York when I started in the league. But know I’m trying to go back to the player that I am, to be more skilled. As of right now, it’s working pretty well. I just have to do more and more things with the puck when I have the puck. And as long as camp goes, I think I’ll be better and more comfortable I’ll get.”