Though it didn’t have a first-round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the Minnesota Wild still made things interesting early, trading fan favorite Cal Clutterbuck and a 2013 third-round pick for a future State of Hockey fan favorite, Nino Niederreiter.
After a 14-goal, 36-point season in his first year in Minnesota that was capped with a strong playoff performance — in which he netted three goals, including a Game 7 series clincher in the First Round against the Colorado Avalanche — Wild.com Digital Media Coordinator Kelly Erickson caught up with Niederreiter to reflect on the day that brought him to the State of Hockey.
Take me back to that day last year, when you got traded. Were you expecting anything?
Well, obviously there was a rumor that there was a chance that I would get traded — I mean, we asked for a trade. I was kind of confused with what was going on. On the draft day I knew a Swiss player was going to get drafted, Mirco Mueller, he was drafted by San Jose (first round, 18th overall). I just tried to follow him and then all of a sudden I heard my name that I got traded. Right after I heard my name I got a phone call from the Islanders. And right after that I got a phone call from Chuck (Fletcher). So that’s kind of what happened.
What were those first conversations like?
My parents were around here and we were just talking. We weren’t sure what to expect. It was a feeling which is very hard to describe. On one side I was happy to get the new opportunity and on the other side I was kind of sad because I still made a lot of friends and still like the teammates and the organization. Obviously I got drafted there so it’s always going to be a special team for me. But I was looking forward to a new opportunity. And yeah, I’m happy with where I am now.
What were some of your thoughts about Minnesota, or impressions of the location and the organization?
I remember on my draft day in Los Angeles (2010 first round, 5th overall), I met that day with the staff from Minnesota and they told me that they really want me to be there, in case I’m still available — I think they took number nine that year (Mikael Granlund) — so I always remembered that when I first got in Minnesota, they liked me then and I guess they still liked me now. So I got there with a great feeling about the whole situation and obviously the way they treat the players — which I can tell now after the season — it’s just first class.
So coming here was positive all around after those initial meetings years before?
Yeah, exactly. It was always positive but I was still nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t quite sure what it would be like or what opportunity I would get. I just knew that whatever was going to happen I just had to stay with it and make sure I reached my goal.
Fast forward a few months from the 2013 Draft day to when you first arrived in Minnesota. What were some of your first impressions?
Obviously I was in New York so it’s a little more relaxed in Minneapolis. I also had to get used to the weather as well because it can get colder. Overall, everything was just like family I guess. I came there and I was comfortable right away. It just felt right.
Didn’t you go to the State Fair on both of the first two days you were here? What was that like for you?
Well I had lots of fun. Actually I had a chance to represent the new white jerseys with (Stephane Veilleux). It was fun people watching and there was some interesting food there, too.
The food is definitely different at the fair. But, back to hockey, what sort of pressure did you feel through Training Camp, if any, to make a good impression and make that opening night roster? What was going through your mind at the time?
I knew how important it was at the time when I got traded. I wanted to make sure I made the team. My goal was to be on the team opening night and just pushing forward. Training Camp started and I just tried to leave a good impression and do everything I could to show what I had.
Obviously it worked out well for you. When you just reflect back on the season, how would you rate it or describe it now a few more weeks removed?
It was a good season overall. There were some ups and downs. Sometimes I played a different position or some days on different lines. I feel like I had a chance to show my variety. Sometimes I was third line, sometimes first line, second line, fourth line — whatever line I was on I was trying to stay with my game, playing my game and that’s something I learned this season, to play with a lot of different kinds of players. Overall it was a good season and I’m very happy about it. At the same time I have to focus on the next season and reach my next goal I have.
How does what you did here, just one year in, set the tone for next season?
I feel like they gave me a great opportunity to finish with the first or second line I guess. That’s where I want to see myself some day. That’s my goal. I want to be a top six forward. It’s a hard way to get there, but at the same time I want to be. I want to make sure I am prepared for it, in Training Camp, to earn that spot.