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Pair of Winterhawks fly to NHL

by Adam Kimelman
LOS ANGELES -- It was thought the Portland Winterhawks would have a good night at the 2010 Entry Draft. But even coach Mike Johnston was a bit surprised when he saw two-thirds of his top line drafted in the top five picks.

The Columbus Blue Jackets selected center Ryan Johansen with the fourth pick, and one spot later, the New York Islanders nabbed right wing Nino Niederreiter.

Johansen was No. 10 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, while Niederreiter was No. 12. So while their rapid rise might have been a surprise to fans and media in the Staples Center, Johnston wasn't among them.

"We had an idea they might because the Islanders really liked Nino all along, they brought him down after the (NHL Scouting) Combine, and Columbus was looking to get a big center," Johnston told

"Our goal has constantly been to add the best player into our lineup that will help us build our young core into a team that consistently competes for the Stanley Cup," Islanders GM Garth Snow. "Nino was extremely impressive in the World Junior Championships playing for Team Switzerland, using his size to create space. He is a big power forward who will add size to our lineup for years to come."

Both players were skating in their first Western Hockey League season, so expectations weren't particularly high.

"At training camp, I thought we should put these three young kids together (Johansen, Niederreiter and Brad Ross) and see how they do as a line,"Johnston said. "All the way through the year they were a great combination."

Johansen had 25 goals and 69 points in 71 games -- pretty good numbers for a player who was 5-9 and 150 pounds when the Winterhawks made him a seventh-round pick in the WHL Bantam draft as a 14-year old.

"My goal was to go top 10," Johansen told "I set a goal to go in the top 10 and I was really hoping for that."

Niederreiter had a goal of his own -- become the highest-ever Swiss-born player drafted. He did that, beating out Michel Riesen, who had been taken by the Edmonton Oilers with the 14th pick of the 1997 Entry Draft.

"I played with him in the Swiss league," Niederreiter told "He was a great kid. He told me maybe I would get a chance to beat him. I didn't believe him, but it's come true."

Niederreiter had a team-high 36 goals this season, far surpassing Johnston's expectations for the 6-foot-2, 201-pounder.

"I was really worried about him," Johnston said. "He was very driven to come in and play for our program, but I know there's a big adjustment for kids living away from home, especially a European, in a league where it's really physical, but he embraced everything.

"We projected at the beginning of the year he'd get 15-20 goals, and he got 36."

Contact Adam Kimelman at

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