After a nine game NHL debut, Islanders 18-year-old rookie forward
“I had a great experience up here, and I was really happy to be here,” Niederreiter said. “I think it’s better to go back to juniors, get a little bit more experience of being a big leader up there. In the end, I think it’s the right decision.”
While the rookie forward was on Long Island, he tallied a lot of firsts, including his very first NHL goal in Washington on Oct. 13, becoming the youngest player in franchise history to score a goal at just 18 years and 35 days. His first NHL assist came eight days later in Tampa Bay.
Following his ninth NHL game Wednesday night in Montreal, Islanders management were forced into making a hard decision of whether it would be more beneficial to keep Niederreiter on Long Island for the remainder of the season or to return him to Portland, where he can develop his skills. If Niederreiter played in a tenth game this season, the first year of his three-year entry-level contract would have kicked in, as per the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
“I think he looked at it as (the decision) could go either way,” said Islanders head coach Scott Gordon. “And really, that’s how we felt the entire time; it could go either way.”
The Islanders had to make the same decision with forwards John Tavares
and Josh Bailey
in the last two seasons. While both Tavares and Bailey stayed with the Islanders, those instances were in no way a factor in General Manager Garth Snow’s decision on Niederreiter.
And as Gordon emphasized what he'd said into days leading up to Thursday, he noted what was unique about Niederreiter's situation.
“I think he could have success not being on the power play and being in a third line situation,” said Islanders head coach Scott Gordon. “He could work his way into that role, but we already have guys that are playing on the power play that have been successful. It’s not like we’re in a situation where you have a struggling power play and you need someone with some offensive abilities to add to the power play.”
“We still have Rob Schremp that’s not playing, and we’re in the process of trying to work Michael Grabner
into the power play,” Gordon continued. “So we do have other options and that’s where it makes it a little bit different than when Josh (Bailey) was here and John (Tavares). Their ability to get their opportunity on the power play was kind of dictated by circumstances.”
Everyone, including Bailey, knows just how talented Niederreiter is and thinks it will serve him well to get a little extra ice time and seasoning in juniors.
Bailey said he thought Niederreiter would have done fine if he stayed on Long Island, but added, “Obviously I think everyone is happy with the way he played. It’s great to imagine how good he’s going to be in a couple of years seeing the way he was at 18. You think about how good he’s going to be at 21, 22, 23, just coming into his prime. There are a lot of good signs.”
Niederreiter knows that Snow and his coaches were looking at the whole picture, rather than just his performance over the past few months.
“Well, if you think about it, Okie’s (Kyle Okposo
) coming back, Hunter is coming back soon too and Schrempie (Rob Schremp), (Michael) Grabner, so it’s a lot of players,” said Niederreiter. “And I’m still young. In the end, I want to be a better player in the future and I think it’s better to get more ice time in juniors and be a better player there.”
This season in Portland, Niederreiter plans to work on all aspects of his game, but said he really wants to hone his offensive skills.
“I mean in the end, definitely the offensive skills,” Niederreiter said. “It’s hard to get scoring opportunities in the NHL. And if you get the puck, you just have to score, and I think that’s the biggest thing you have to learn here.”
After tallying 36 goals and 24 assists for 60 points in the WHL last season, Niederreiter is poised for another great season in Portland who finished third in the Western Conference Finals last season with the Portland Winterhawks. But here on Long Island, fans will look forward to the day when the Swiss powerhouse returns to the Islanders lineup.