Easily the most talented Swiss forward prospect in history, Nino Niederreiter got a chance that few draft-eligible players do – to represent his country at the World Junior Championship. He did not disappoint.
Against players typically at least one year older, Niederreiter made the tournament All-Star team by scoring 10 points (six of them goals) in seven games. Many of his tallies were clutch, as he tied an elimination game against Russia with under a minute remaining before scoring the overtime winner to lead his team to the semifinals.
If that was his coming out party and what he’s still predominantly known for in the hockey world, his accomplishments with his junior club back it up. In his first year playing in North America with Portland of the Western Hockey League, he scored 60 points in 65 games, including a team-leading 36 goals. He bettered that pace in the postseason, netting eight goals with eight assists in 13 contests.
For a young player (his Sept. 8, 1992 birth date is just one week before the cutoff and makes him almost a full year younger than potential first overall pick Taylor Hall, born Nov. 14, 1991) adapting to life overseas for the first time, such results are impressive.
“You see it happen more and more, but when you think about what that means with leaving his home and his country to go halfway across the world and play hockey, it’s a big step,” said Jason Karmanos, the Hurricanes’ vice president and assistant general manager. “It shows a maturity level, and to be able to deal with all those issues successfully is a big test of character.”
The move suited Niederreiter very well. The 6-foot-2, 205 pound power forward does not play a finesse-based game often associated with Europeans, and is now more accustomed to the smaller ice surface and hectic game schedule not found overseas. All of that should help to make him just the fifth Swiss forward ever to play in the NHL and the first to play more than 27 career games.
“He likes to play a physical game which is not what Swiss players are typically known for,” said Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes’ director of amateur scouting. “He’s got a good shot, goes to the net hard and scores a lot of goals off rebounds.
“He’s probably more of a shooter than he is a creator or playmaker, but can really score goals if he’s playing with the right center to get him the puck in the right places.”
With Portland, Niederreiter had that center in the form of fellow top-10 candidate Ryan Johansen. The two complemented each other extremely well, with Johansen dishing out plenty of assists for his linemate to finish – something Niederreiter happens to do very well (make sure to check out the video above if you haven't already). If Johansen gets comparisons to Eric Staal
, Niederreiter would then play the role of Erik Cole when they're both healthy and on their game.
As to which player is the better prospect between those two, that’s difficult to say due to their singular styles. As close as that call may be, it’s one that some team, quite possibly the Hurricanes if recent rankings and mock drafts prove correct, will have to make.
“They’re two different kinds of players as a natural center vs. a big power winger,” said Karmanos. “The fact of the matter is that they’re both very good players, and it depends on what you’re looking for.”