[Gameday Bits] In Wild match, ex-Sound Tiger stars Niederreiter, Nelson meet

First liner! - Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Oh hey, let's talk about Nino some more.

From Michael Russo in the Star-Tribune, in advance of tonight's New York Islanders-Minnesota Wild meeting in St. Paul:

The Nino story has been written a ton this year, so I’m not about to rehash. But it’s kind of apropos that the team that sanctioned him to the fourth line as a teenager will  face him on the first line in Minnesota. We’ll see if Niederreiter can make a statement.

Ex-Isle Nino Niederreiter is on the Wild's first line with franchise star Zach Parise injured. (For those tracking obsessively at home, Nino has one goal and four assists in his last 16 games.) On the other squad, Brock Nelson received some time on the Islanders' first line last night with Islanders franchise star John Tavares out injured. (Tavares is back in tonight though.)

Nelson's trial in that role didn't last more than two periods; he was good as a first-line wing earlier this season when Thomas Vanek was hurt, but even emergency duty as first-line center may be too much to ask at this point. Anyway, rather than rehash the Niederreiter-Cal Clutterbuck trade itself, I'm interested in one of the sticking points for Nino's trade demand: Who was more important to his AHL success last season (and thus, his indignation that the Islanders had the nerve to keep him in the minors at age 20)?

It was the center Nelson, after all, who led the Sound Tigers in scoring in 2012-13 (25-27-52 in 66 GP), while frequent linemate Niederreiter tailed off in the second half (finishing with 28-22-50 in 74 GP) after suffering a pride injury. After the AHL season ended, Nelson was called up for the playoffs with the Islanders, while Niederreiter -- whose agent emailed a trade request after the Isles didn't recall him for their post-lockout training camp -- was told to showcase himself with Switzerland at the World Championships.

It started to become clear that Nino wasn't going to be that best-case scenario, the physically dominant, power forward sniper that some hoped for back in 2010. That's why the Canucks reportedly wouldn't take him for Cory Schneider, and why shopping him at the draft yielded just a middle six winger and a pick.

But even if he won't be a star, what is still intriguing and up for debate is how good Niederreiter (and Nelson) will be at the NHL level, and along with that, how important quality linemates like Ryan Johansen (in their WHL days), Nelson (in their AHL time), and the Wild's top liners have been to Nino's production (and self-importance) to date.

Because that was always the nagging question about Nino, and is in fact the eternal question when projecting (and planning your future around) any top-but-not-elite prospects like this: Whether it's Nelson or NIederreiter (or even Ryan Strome or Griffin Reinhart), are they going to be NHL difference-makers, or just solid NHLers?

Gameday Reads
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