Am I the GM? The Coach? The Assistant Coach? The whatever-Doug-Weight’s-actual title is?
What I am is a fan who is looking from the outside in at what appears to be a clear mismanagement of a young world-class talent. This young man goes by the name Nino Niederreiter. You may have heard of him.
And then you may have almost immediately forgotten about him. Nino has spent almost the entirety of his first full NHL season buried on the fourth line.
Nino has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the season, but when I hear much of anything about him it’s his "defensive liability" or "rookie mistake" he made with the puck. Rarely do I ever here "Nino did a great job protecting that puck with his body" or "Man, it’s actually nice that someone on this team aside from Matt Martin actually finishes their checks." I’ve watched almost every game and yes, there is no doubt that Nino still has work to do, but I don’t think it’s fair to expect him to produce at his "expected" level when his linemates can’t add much of anything short of a decent forecheck.
This is a Catch 22 as management at least appears to want Nino to put up points. And who can blame them? He was drafted 5th overall. Except for the fact that his linemates throughout the season have been Jay Pandolfo and Marty Reasoner. Even the fourth line on a team as deep as the Penguins isn’t expected to put up many offensive numbers, much less a team like the Islanders.
I’m not touting Nino as the second coming of Crosby or Stamkos. He’s not. Plain and simple. But he does have the build and drive to be a power forward on a team that desperately needs one. And instead of throwing him on even the 3rd line with some form of offensive talent, he is left to create scoring situations almost 100% on his own, and feed cross ice passes to players who can not, will not, and have not finished.
The verdict on Josh Bailey is still out there, but has the ‘Josh Bailey Experiment’ yielded not even a lesson learned? Both Bailey and Nino were considered reaches for their respective draft positions, but that should be no excuse for management to mishandle another young talent like this.
It has come to the point where Nino has been healthy scratched which is mind boggling even more so than when Bailey was sent down to Bridgeport. Bailey was at least given linemates that could help him score and succeed. Nino was given a bad hand and was essentially told to make the most of it. And it seems like he has. But it’s still not enough. With the team out of the playoff race it’s truly absurd that management would scratch Nino instead of, say, anyone else.
Nino has vented his frustration and one can’t blame him one bit. One imagines that this off season the Isles will make some moves to improve both the offense and the defense. But where does Nino fit? Where will the logjam of Center’s we’ve drafted fit? What the hell is going on with our goalies and their comical laundry list of injuries? I don’t know. And maybe that’s why I’m not Coach, or GM. But I really do hope that management gives Nino a true opportunity to flourish at an NHL level. Bust or no bust, the kid deserves at least that much.