has had his share of uphill battles this season. Reaching the mid-way point of the season Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers (41 games), the Swiss native has played 17 games.
“It feels great that I have a chance to play, but now I need to work on other parts of my game,” Niederreiter said. “I’ve had some good opportunities to score, which is getting frustrating. But I just have to work hard and get as much ice time as possible.”
Right out of the gate, Niederreiter missed the first 14 games with a groin injury. He came back for three games, watched from the press box for four games and then played for three more games before missing five games with a concussion.
|Devan Dubnyk makes the save on Nino Niederreiter at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on December 31, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Oilers 4-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) |
Returning to the ice on Dec. 17 against Minnesota, Niederreiter has finally begun to see steady time. In the last 11 games, he’s averaged 10:10 TOI/game alongside some combination of Jay Pandolfo
, Marty Reasoner
and Tim Wallace.
“When you get hurt and you are out for a while, it’s tough, you can work with the strength and conditioning guys until you get on the ice,” Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “Even when you are sprinting and working out, until you get to a game and get that battle level and practice, it takes a little bit of time. I think (Nino) has really come a long way since his injury and he’s where he needs to be.”
A dominant player in the Western Hockey League last season, Niederreiter posted 41 goals and 29 assists for 70 points in 55 games. During training camp, it was made clear that he would make the jump to the pros full time. Now that he’s here, he’s still working hard to learn the nuances of the game at the NHL level, playing amongst men.
“Here, I have a lot less opportunity than I had in junior for scoring goals,” Niederreiter said. “But at the end of the day, I have to create my own chances.”
Capuano said, “He continues to want to get better every day. He wants to learn, he watches his shifts. As a coaching staff we try to sit with him and show him some mistakes that he’s made and some positive things that he’s done… I look at his overall play, his conditioning, his strength and his 1-on-1 battles. He’s playing against men from where he was playing last year, but every day he continues to get better.”
Sure, he’s not racking up the score sheet with just one goal in 17 games, but he’s gaining invaluable experience he’ll need for years to come.
|Nino Niederreiter and Kyle Chipchura battle for the puck at Jobing.com Arena on January 7, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images) |
“Sometimes I’ve been scared to make mistakes and that’s why I’ve tried to play as smart as possible,” Niederreiter said. “The biggest improvement I’ve made is skating, protecting the puck a little more and I’m getting better on the walls.”
Capuano sees the natural talent brooding from his 18-year-old’s core and he doesn’t want to handicap it by adding any unwanted pressure.
“You never want to take away his creativity because he’s got soft hands and he’s getting pucks to the net,” Capuano said. “I see him when it’s a 1-on-3 now, when there is no play, he’s making smart decisions with the puck. He’s got some discipline and those are the little things that other guys take notice of. For a young guy learning, his offense is going to come. He’s going to earn his way.”
It may be a slower learning curve than Niederreiter would have liked, but for a guy with a shoot-first mentality, his offensive upside only has room to improve.
“With his hands, he has the ability to make a quick decision and a quick play, but he doesn’t hesitate to get pucks on net and that’s what you need to do,” Capuano said. “On the flip side of that, when his linemates are shooting, he’s not afraid to get to the net either.”