These are not your 2008 New York Islanders. All told, it was a nice and appropriate initial nine-game run for Nino Niederreiter, the youngest Islander in history. He showed enough flashes to tell you why the Islanders picked him -- level head, big body (still filling out), heavy shot, unafraid of contact even at the NHL level.
But as garik16 outlined nicely in a FanPost earlier this week, and others have observed from watching him play (mostly with Doug Weight and Michael Grabner), he still has a ways to go to help this team in a significant and consistent way. Maybe with daily coaching and the confidence acquired from knowing he's not going back, that point could have arrived this season on Long Island. But maybe (and likely for a kid who turned 18 last month?) not.
Significantly, as the Islanders addressed via Scott Gordon's and Garth Snow's ever-guarded comments on the matter, this was about more than the wild card of how much Nino could develop this year: It was also about how the Islanders forward depth has improved, and thus there is no need to risk him rotting on the roster behind several forwards who are ready now.
In addition to Kyle Okposo and Rob Schremp being expected back in this season's first half, there is in Bridgeport Matt Martin (up right now on an emergency recall), Rhett Rakhshani (to my eyes the most NHL-ready forward cut in training camp), and three-year project Jesse Joensuu.
It was interesting, in the days leading up to The Decision, how many observers both thought Nino probably should go back but also figured the Isles might keep him. In the end their decision came as advertised in Gordon's comments to media yesterday, aired during the MSG+++ intermission...:
"It's different [from the Josh Bailey situation] in that we do have some prospects in Bridgeport, like Matt Martin and Jesse Joensuu and Rhett Rakhshani, that are in a position now to get called up," Gordon said. "And then also we have some other players that are part of our organization like Kyle [Okposo] and Rob [Schremp], so it's a different set of circumstances."
"There are a lot of ingredients that go into making the decision: What's in the best interest for the player, what's in the best interest of the organization, how we feel about the organization we'd be sending him back to, and also the mental makeup of the player."
Safe to say the Islanders feel alright about the WHL power Portland Winterhawks, to whom Nino now returns.
As Calvin De Haan's adjustment in Oshawa shows, that's always a hard initial demotion for a player. But if Nino's character is as strong as billed, he'll be fine -- and the Islanders will have a better, more polished forward for it come next year or the year following.
Best of luck to the kid. With a little more natural growth and seasoning to come, he should be an exciting one to watch in an Isles uniform some day.