Many of the kids who jumped straight from the 2010 draft to the NHL will be staying the duration of the season, including Carolina’s Jeff Skinner and Boston’s Tyler Seguin. But right winger Nino Niederreiter, all 6-foot-2, 200 pounds of him, is heading back to Portland of the Western League.
And I say good on the New York Islanders for making that call. Despite the fact ‘El Nino’ has excellent reach and a solid frame – which he has already shown can dish out physical play at the NHL level – the Swiss national wasn’t generating the scoring chances the Isles were looking for. Which is completely understandable because the kid is only 18 years old.
Don’t forget, last season was Niederreiter’s first in North America. He played 65 games for Portland in the regular season and 13 in the playoffs. In between, he had his star-making turn at the world juniors where he led Switzerland to the bronze medal game.
Before that, Niederreiter had never played more than 38 games total in a season in Switzerland, so he is still getting used to the pace and travel of North America. In Portland, he’ll contend for a WHL title and perhaps the Memorial Cup. The Winterhawks are loaded this season, just as they were last year when Niederreiter and Ryan Johansen, also back in Portland this season, went back-to-back in the draft (Johansen went fourth to Columbus, followed by his linemate at No. 5).
Once again, Niederreiter will suit up for the Swiss at the world juniors and will even have a talented Portland teammate along for the ride in Sven Bartschi, who has tore up the Dub for 20 points in his first 13 games. All this experience will help Niederreiter secure a place on the Islanders next year.
The Niederreiter scenario also reminds me of when teams have rushed kids into the fray too early. The Islanders have certainly been guilty of doing so, particularly with third-year pro Josh Bailey, who looks like an NHLer now, but wasn’t put in a position to succeed the past two campaigns.
As a rookie, Bailey was a minus-14 for the Isles in 68 games, registering 25 points in the process. Due to New York’s inability to land prominent free agents, he was expected to carry more of an offensive mantle as a sophomore. His 35 points were an improvement, but they certainly weren’t Stamkos-esque.
Similarly, Phoenix’s Kyle Turris was rushed into the league alongside fellow rookies Viktor Tikhonov and Mikkel Boedker. Turris had one year of experience with the University of Wisconsin before turning pro, while the other two forwards went straight from the draft (though Tikhonov was 20 at the time).
With three goals and four points in his first seven games this year, Turris is looking like a legitimate NHL threat. But what if the Coyotes had waited, instead of subjecting him to a disappointing 2008-09 campaign that saw the youngster tally just 20 points and a minus-15 rating in 63 games?
When Dave Tippett took over the Coyotes bench, he saw the errors of Wayne Gretzky’s ways and sent Turris, Tikhonov and Boedker down to the minors. Phoenix went from dreadful to one of the best teams in the West by playing veterans and Turris put up 63 points in 76 games for the San Antonio Rampage. Boedker and Tikhonov both struggled in the AHL last season, with Tikhonov even popping back to Russia to find his mojo.
Now, both are off to great starts with the Rampage. Would they have been NHL-ready now had they not been rushed? I realize it’s all hindsight, but it’s certainly food for thought.
In Bailey’s case, he looks physically stronger in his third NHL campaign and is nearly a point-per-game player early on. But what could he have been with another year of junior, playing for the Memorial Cup-winning Windsor Spitfires? Again, food for thought. And a luxury now rightly enjoyed by Niederreiter.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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