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Niederreiter ready to capitalize on opportunity

by Brittany Cole / New York Islanders
Nino Niederreiter is back for his second Islanders Mini-Camp and is already looking stronger, more comfortable and even more eager to crack the lineup this fall.

For the fifth overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, it’s all about making a first impression, but for a second time. With a lot less nerves and better understanding of what this week is all about, Niederreiter knows a thing or two about how this week of mini-camp will go.

“It was definitely a little different last year,” Niederreiter said. “Last year, I didn’t know what to expect, but I think this year I have a better idea of what’s going to happen. I was very nervous (last year), but I’m not as nervous now so things feel better.”

Niederreiter, who started the 2010-11 season with the Islanders, was sent back to the Portland Winterhawks (Western Hockey League) after nine games. With one mini-camp, a training camp and nine NHL games under his belt, he knew that in order to come back this year and make the team, he would have to improve his game.

Islanders prospect Nino Niederreiter takes a knee at during an on-ice session at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday, July 13, 2011.
“I think I got a little bit stronger, that’s for sure,” Niederreiter said. “After the season (in Portland), I took a two-week power skating camp to improve my skating. I think that was the biggest issue I had last year, so I took the advice from the coaches.”

Those improvements and adjustments must have shown after the first day of skating as Islanders head coach Jack Capuano took notice.

“Looking at Nino now, he’s grown into his body,” Capuano said. “The confidence level that he’s playing with, you can see it for sure. He’s a guy that come September is going to be pushing hard and I think he knows that his time is now.”

Niederreiter knows he’ll still have to keep working to make it back to the NHL and stay there.

“It’s still going to be hard for me this year,” Niederreiter said. “It’s not easy to crack the lineup.”

The Swiss forward did crack the Isles lineup last season. During his nine games, he tallied one goal and one assist – becoming the youngest Islanders player in team history and the fourth youngest NHL player in the expansion era to score a goal at 18 years, 35 days old – before returning to Portland to set career highs in goals, assists and points.

Niederreiter is one of a handful of prospects this week with NHL experience, which has given him a more mature attitude and the ability to help the younger, less-experienced players, both on and off the ice. Being more comfortable has led the forward to pass along some advice to this camp linemate, Ryan Strome, who is in the same boat in more ways than one, as both were chosen by the Isles fifth overall in their respective drafts.

“I talked to Strome a little bit about what’s going to happen over the next few days,” Niederreiter said. “It was the same situation with me last year, so it’s good to talk to him a little bit. If somebody asks me, I’m going to give them advice. It’s nice to be able to do that.”

The advice should be useful as the two will be playing on the same line, along with Kirill Kabanov, during camp this week. As the skaters took the ice for the first time this morning, Niederreiter said he felt things were going to go well.

Islanders prospect Nino Niederreiter takes a shot during an on-ice session of Islanders Mini-Camp at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday, July 13, 2011.
“I think it was a pretty good first day,” he said. “We didn’t do too much with the lines today, but I think the first couple drills we did together, we did pretty well. We were passing a lot and that felt pretty good.”

Niederreiter said the different activities planned for this week also help to get to know all of the guys because it’s not all about skating and playing hockey. He was able to talk with many of the players on the first night of camp, which included a fishing trip and dinner.

When it comes to making the team, Niederreiter will still have to prove himself, but Capuano isn’t too concerned with his work ethic or the type of person he is. Instead, he pointed to the speed of the game, one-on-one puck battles and his level of physicality.

"If he does those things, he’s got a great chance,” Capuano said.

Niederreiter hopes he’s able to make the proper adjustments which will help him reach his dream of playing in an Islanders uniform sometime in the near future.

“Last year, I was living a dream of mine,” Niederreiter said. “It was just an unbelievable feeling to play up here. I know how hard I have to work for the next steps. It’s still my dream to make this team, so hopefully it will happen this year.”

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