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Taste of NHL leaves Niederreiter wanting more

by Greg Picker /
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- A taste of the NHL last season has Nino Niederreiter eager for more.

After making Niederreiter the highest-chosen Swiss player in draft history when they took him with the fifth pick of the 2010 Entry Draft, the New York Islanders thought enough of Niederreiter to keep him on the roster when they broke camp last fall. He even scored his first NHL goal.

But after nine games, the maximum before the first year of his entry-level deal would have kicked in, the Islanders sent Niederreiter back to his junior team, the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League.

Although his time in the NHL was short, it helped Niederreiter understand what he needs to do to make it at the next level. 

"Last year I was living the dream, the nine games," Niederreiter said after his first on-ice session during the Isles' development camp at the Nassau Coliseum. "Now I know how hard I have to work for the next step."

Whatever disappointment he might have had about being sent back to Portland certainly didn't show in his performance -- he scored 41 goals and added 29 assists in just 55 regular-season games, then put up 9 goals and 27 points in 21 playoff games to lead Portland to the WHL finals.

The Islanders have not been hesitant to play highly drafted young prospects in the NHL right away. Josh Bailey, taken No. 9 in 2008, played 68 games with the Islanders during the 2008-09 season, while John Tavares, taken with the first pick in 2009, played in all 82 games in his first season after being drafted.

Islanders coach Jack Capuano said Niederreiter and several of the club's other top prospects, including 2009 first-round pick Calvin de Haan and 2011 first pick Ryan Strome, will be given every opportunity to make the team out of training camp, regardless of their age. 

"I'm not afraid of youth, I never have been," Capuano said. "The guys that want that job, they want to earn it, and they’re going to get that opportunity come September."

That's good news for Niederreiter, whose early September birthdate made him the youngest player in the League last season. Also, unlike many other young players, Niederreiter's size doesn't appear to be an issue -- he's listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds.

"I think I got a little bit stronger, that’s for sure," Niederreiter said. "But in the end, it's still a long way to go and it's two months until the season starts, so we'll see if I am ready or not."

Capuano, in his first full season as coach on Long Island after running the Isles' AHL team in Bridgeport, noticed the difference.

"Just looking at Nino now and the body and how he's grown into his body, the confidence he's played with, you can see it for sure and you know he's a guy that again come September is going to be pushing hard," Capuano said.

Niederreiter also is much more comfortable in his second development camp.

"Last year I didn't know what to expect," he said. "This year I kind of know what's going to happen. I know it's going to be hard for me this year as well, so it's exciting to be here again."

One thing that figures to help Niederreiter's chances is the return of defenseman Mark Streit, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. Streit not only is one of the NHL's best defenseman, he's also the most accomplished Swiss-born hockey player in the NHL. The two would become only the second pair of Swiss-born teammates in NHL history, joining Streit and goaltender David Aebischer, who played together in Montreal five years ago.

But to get to that point, Niederreiter knows there's a lot of work to do.

"Last year, I was living a dream of mine," he said of playing in the NHL. "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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