SYOSSET, N.Y. – Nino Niederreiter
had Sept. 18 circled on his calendar not long after the New York Islanders
used the fifth pick at the 2010 Entry Draft on the Swiss forward back in June.
Niederreiter -- who turned 18 just 10 days ago -- was on the ice with who he hopes to be his teammates as the Isles opened training camp Saturday morning on Long Island.
"It was exciting," said Niederreiter, who skated on a line with Josh Bailey
and Frans Nielsen
. "I think it was a good first day. We worked hard. I had a good line with Bailey and Frannie. It was great. I'm just going to try to do everything to stay here."
Niederreiter, who scored 36 goals in 65 games in his first junior season with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks, impressed Isles' brass at the team's rookie camp in July. Now, though, he's skating with the big boys. Niederreiter admitted he immediately noticed a difference.
"Everything was a little bit faster," Niederreiter said. "The passes were way harder and the goaltenders were good. Everything was a bit harder, but it went pretty well. I'm pretty comfortable with it."
Niederreiter received a taste of players he might see in the NHL down the road when the Isles faced the Boston Bruins
in a pair of rookie exhibition games at TD Garden on Thursday and Friday. While New York lost both games, Niederreiter was happy he had the chance to participate.
"It was a great experience," Niederreiter said. "Everything was pretty fast. You could see that everybody's fighting for a spot in the NHL. It was a tough game, but at the end, we lost both games. That was the bad part about it."
Not only did Niederreiter skate at an NHL rink for the first time, but he also took part in his first fight. The highest-drafted Swiss player in NHL history dropped the gloves with Boston's Tyler Randell
and did his best to hold his own.
"I had no idea what to do," Niederreiter said. "The fighter came to me and said I did a good job. If I ever fight again, I kind of know what to do."
With that out of the way, now it's up to Niederreiter to show that he can follow in the footsteps of Bailey and John Tavares
and make the Isles' roster in his first year after being drafted. If he's going to do that, though, Isles coach Scott Gordon
will need to see Niederreiter make better use of his 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame.
"He was good," Gordon said when asked to evaluate Niederreiter's first day. "It really wasn’t that much different from what we had done at summer camp and the couple of days before here. We’re going to see a difference when he starts to get leaned on by the bigger and stronger players. He’s got to be stronger on the puck and use his size probably a little bit better than what he’s accustomed to.
"He’s got a lot of things going for him, one of them being his size. If you have that size and don’t use it, then it doesn’t matter. He’s got to be able to use it with or without the puck."
Should he do that and make the NHL roster, Niederreiter -- who will return to Portland for a second season if he doesn't make the Isles -- will get to skate alongside fellow countryman Mark Streit
, who will take the teenager under his wing over the next couple of weeks.
"He had a really good rookie camp," Streit said. "Everybody’s really pleased with him. I thought for the first practice he looked really good. He’s a big kid and he’s a physical guy. He has a great attitude and a great personality. He’s the whole package. I think he has a chance of making the team. He's young, but he wants to learn. He works hard and he has a great attitude. You've seen in the past, guys like Josh Bailey
and John Tavares
made the team right away. That's a good sign for Nino.
"I’m happy the Islanders drafted him. There’s not a lot of Swiss players in the League and not a lot of first-rounders. It's great to have one on the same team. It's a big League, but there's only like a handful of Swiss guys in the NHL. I'm really pleased and happy that he's on the same team and I want to help him as much as possible. It's a pleasure to have him here."
"We’re going to see a difference when he starts to get leaned on by the bigger and stronger players. He’s got to be stronger on the puck and use his size probably a little bit better than what he’s accustomed to." -- Islanders coach Scott Gordon
The feeling is mutual.
"It's great ... he's like a big dad," Niederreiter said of Streit. "If I need some help, I'm pretty sure I can go and he will help me out. He speaks the same language as I do, so it's great to have him here."
The fact that Streit is one of the League's top defensemen, combined with Niederreiter making history at the draft, has the people in their native country excited. Streit is hopeful that it's just the beginning for Switzerland as it attempts to make an impact on the hockey world.
"There's a lot of hockey fans in Switzerland," Streit explained. "It's kind of tough to catch any games on TV. You need to go on the Internet, but people there love hockey. There's about eight (Swiss) guys in the NHL. Hopefully more guys come over and go on that path. It's a popular sport and I'm sure a lot of people are watching us."
For the next couple of weeks on Long Island, all eyes will be on Niederreiter as the Isles hope he's another big piece in their rebuilding process.
"I'm just really excited and just having fun," Niederreiter said. "I'm playing the best I can here. We'll see what's going to happen."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL