Nino Niederreiter tweeted during the summer that he was "proud to be on the Swiss cover of NHL15" after a season in which he posted career-highs in goals, assists and points, and scored the overtime winner in the Minnesota Wild's first victory in a Stanley Cup Playoff series since 2003.
The big question for Niederreiter and the Wild is simple: What's next?
Though it seems as if Niederreiter has been around a long time, he won't turn 22 years old until next month. And after he had 14 goals and 36 points in his 81 games with the Wild following his acquisition from the New York Islanders at the 2013 NHL Draft, coach Mike Yeo and general manager Chuck Fletcher feel he's capable of doing a lot more.
"Like all young players, there's some inconsistency in his game," Fletcher told NHL.com. "But as the season went along last year his confidence grew, he gained more experience and he was a very effective player for us in the playoffs."
The Islanders took Niederreiter with the fifth pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, but he never found his footing with the organization. He managed one goal and two points in 64 games before being traded to the Wild for forward Cal Clutterbuck and a third-round pick at the 2013 draft.
Niederreiter worked his way into a steady role with the Wild, averaging a career-best 14:05 of ice time last season and enjoying his first taste of success at the NHL level.
"I was happy to get a good opportunity to showcase my game," he told NHL.com. "I had a good season, but I know I can be better in a lot of areas."
Yeo was very pleased with Niederreiter's performance and is confident he can do more.
"He's a big body, but when we brought him into our lineup, we wanted to make sure that the foundation of his game was going to be about strong defense," he told NHL.com. "We had him playing on checking lines; we had him playing against top lines. I think that gave him the opportunity to get a little more ice time and some more opportunities, and he found himself playing on the first line. He bounced around a bit at points during the season, but he started to learn what kind of game he has to play, night in and night out.
"He brings his game every night, regardless of who he's playing with, and he's become a very effective player."
Niederreiter also feels he's just beginning to scratch the surface of his talent, something the Wild need him to do for them to build on the success from last season.
"I want to be a power forward who can score goals and play in different situations," he said. "I feel like I'm at my best when it counts the most and that I can take my game to another level when the really important games come up, like the playoffs.
"Last year, most of the time I played on the third line. This year I want to get a spot on the first two lines. It's going to be really tough, very challenging, but I'm ready to take that challenge and try to be in the top-six forwards."
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