With all of the New York Islanders properties' seasons finished, the post-mortems continue. To check the pulse of Nino Niederreiter, there is a good, thorough Swiss media interview in Südostschweiz that is more than you standard fanzine-level coverage. [Find your delightful Google Translate version here.]
It's an intriguing one because it covers the mindset of Niederreiter, who:
- struggled in his rookie NHL year in a role that didn't fit him, but without earning a better one
- started this AHL season on fire in Bridgeport
- saw his agent request a trade after he wasn't included in the abbreviated post-lockout NHL training camp this year
- saw his AHL production tail off after the lockout (and after some of his better Bridgeport teammates joined the Islanders)
- was part of a big line in Switzerland's run to the gold medal game
One of the themes is a familiar one: Niederreiter's role with the surprise silver-medal-winning Swiss team at the recent IIHF World Championship changed from a checker to a scorer's role.
[Pardon the rough translation below]
You had a completely different role (with the Swiss team) from last year ...
Yes, [last time] was a "checker role." I had to prepare first for checking, digging in the corner standing in front of the goalie on the power play. ... This is different than taking the stage and being allowed to try things with the puck.
Was it communicated to you, this new role?
It was automatic, because I was on a line with Martin Plüss and Simon Moser. Plüss is a very seasoned center and good passer. Moser is a large, powerful wing. So I knew we could make a difference offensively. And we did that.
Shades of the contrast between how he was Pandolfo'd his rookie year in the NHL, versus his (and surely the club's) long-term desire to have him line up with more talented players in offensive roles.
But it's interesting that it isn't just the Islanders who have put him through checking-line internships before giving him an opportunity on offense (even if, with the Islanders at least, that opportunity has only come in the AHL so far).
Niederreiter also discussed working with a sports counselor over the summer so that he had a different mental approach this year, responding to adversity -- he mentions specifically the disappointment of not getting an invite to NHL camp -- in a different way.
But there is another parallel between Nino's experience with the Swiss team and the Islanders: Gaining respect.
The Swiss team has long been seen as not only the underdog but also one with low expectations. That pulling off an upset here and there was enough to go home happy. Not this time. The Swiss tore out of the gates and achieved big victories over Canada, the Czech Republic and Sweden. As Niederreiter says, they aren't "happy" with the silver medal -- even though it's a big achievement 60 years in the waiting -- because they were so close to gold.
The team he hopes to join next year isn't happy with its first-round playoff exit, even though simply getting there was further than the Isles have been since 2007.
I mostly want to play in the NHL. That is my goal. I'm sure a fair chance will come somewhere/how. I must use this.
There is also a little that you can read into about hearing congratulations for the WC performance from old Portland friends and occasionally from fellow Swiss Islander Mark Streit -- but when asked if he heard from the Isles during the tournament, a simple "no." (Again, read into that what you want. It's an interview transcript.)
[Edit: And certainly, you can read his disappointment both in not getting an invite to NHL camp and also not being recalled to the playoffs. The latter is almost mind-boggling, considering the WC provided much better playing time and the only "black ace" to see playing time was Brock Nelson, in a brief debut, in the final game. But maybe he really wanted to be back with the club.]
So here is Niederreiter, still talking about the difference in confidence you get when you play 18-20 minutes a game versus 5-10 minutes. Still saying the right things about just wanting to take the right approach mentally and physically and make the Islanders next season. Still noting that ultimately he just wants to play in the NHL.
If he's sharpened the other parts of his game -- again, he's only 20 -- and carries that into next fall's training camp, he'll be able to do just that. And do that with the Islanders.
If you think about how he'll only turn 21 at the start of training camp, how he's taken a still-unconventional route to the NHL, and how his big body both did him favors and hid flaws in his game, there is still plenty of time for a happy marriage here. There's plenty of time for him to become the player he thinks he can be and the Islanders thought they were drafting in 2010.