After making the team out of training camp and appearing in the club's first nine games, the Isles have decided to send Niederreiter back for a second season with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. Niederreiter, who made history by becoming the highest Swiss-born player ever selected when the Isles tabbed him with the fifth pick of the 2010 Entry Draft, had 1 goal and 1 assist for New York.
Niederreiter received the news Thursday morning in a meeting with Isles GM Garth Snow and coach Scott Gordon.
"I think it's better to go back to juniors and get more experience and be a bigger leader out there," Niederreiter said before departing Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. "At the end, I think it's the right fit. I'll try to make the team next year."
"Last (season) was his first year of junior. We have, right now, four forwards that are out of the lineup. We have players that are available to us in (AHL) Bridgeport. Had Nino been able to maybe generate more offensive chances or maybe showed a little more domination, maybe we'd reconsider it. But when it's all said and done, he's only 18 years old. He's only played one year of junior. With the numbers that we do have here when we are healthy, we certainly don't want to get in a situation where we'd have to think that he wasn't going to play." -- Scott Gordon
"I was just trying not to think about the ninth game," Niederreiter said. "I tried my best, but it was pretty tough to not think about it."
With several injured forwards close to returning -- Rob Schremp (back), Trent Hunter (foot) and Michael Grabner (groin) are inching closer, while Kyle Okposo (shoulder) is expected back by December -- the Islanders have the depth to justify the decision to send Niederreiter back. Combine that with his lack of experience, and it made the decision that much easier.
"Last (season) was his first year of junior," Gordon said. "We have, right now, four forwards that are out of the lineup. We have players that are available to us in (AHL) Bridgeport. Had Nino been able to maybe generate more offensive chances or maybe showed a little more domination, maybe we'd reconsider it. But when it's all said and done, he's only 18 years old. He's only played one year of junior. With the numbers that we do have here when we are healthy, we certainly don't want to get in a situation where we'd have to think that he wasn't going to play."
Niederreiter only celebrated his 18th birthday Sept. 8. In 65 games with Portland last season, his first in North America, he had 36 goals and 24 assists. Niederreiter also shined for Switzerland at the World Junior Championships, when he led the team with 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists) in seven games. He also represented his country at the World Championships last spring. By sending him back to Portland, he'll likely receive those opportunities again.
"I think it's really a win-win," said Isles forward Josh Bailey, who made the club as an 18-year-old in 2008. "It's a pretty similar situation to me. Obviously, I think we're a team that's pushing for a (playoff) spot this year. If you're keeping a guy like him, you want him to get all the power-play time in the world … you want him to be benefiting from all the opportunity. I think at this point, maybe he wasn't getting it in the first nine games.
"He just turned 18," Bailey added. "He's a young guy. He did a heck of a job for nine games. It takes a special person to come in and play the way he did at such a young age. He's very mature -- more mature than I was at his age. Usually, there's an adjustment when you go from hanging out with boys to being with guys that have kids and that are married. I think he fit right in and did a great job. I have nothing but great things to say about him."
Now that he has a taste of the NHL, there's little doubt that Niederreiter is determined to make sure this season of junior hockey will be his last. Twelve months from now, it's likely the 6-foot-2, 205-pound power forward will be a mainstay in the Islanders' lineup.
"I had a great experience up here," Niederreiter said. "I was really happy to be here. But you think about it, Okie's coming back, then Hunts is coming back soon, too. Schremp, Grabner … it's a lot of players. I'm still young. At the end, I want to be a better player. I think it's better to get more ice time in juniors and be a better player there."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL