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Kurtzberg’s Corner: Taking a look at Islanders prospect Nino Niederreiter

As the new season gets underway, it is clear that Isles prospect Nino Niederreiter has a real opportunity to stick with the big club this season.  It’s also clear that “El Nino” fully understands this.

Niederreiter just turned 19 this past week, but when it comes to all things hockey, he shows maturity beyond his years.

Last season, the Islanders drafted the 6’2”, 205-pound native of Chur, Switzerland, with the fifth overall pick in the draft.  After a strong showing at training camp, Niederreiter spent nine early season games with the Islanders.  He scored his first NHL goal off Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth in Washington on a one-timer from the right circle after taking a pass from Doug Weight.  Niederreiter also recorded an assist during his stint on Long Island.

While he showed promise, it was clear that the rookie needed to get stronger and gain more experience to play consistently at the NHL level.  Isles GM Garth Snow returned Niederreiter to Portland of the WHL for the rest of the season where he could play more minutes and assume a leadership position with his junior club.

In Portland, Niederreiter didn’t disappoint.  He scored 41 goals and 70 points in just 55 games before adding nine goals and 27 points in 21 playoff games while helping the Winterhawks reach the finals.

During the offseason, Niederreiter continued working on his strength.  When he reported for mini-camp this summer, Isles Coach Jack Capuano noticed the changes in the former first round pick and not just physically.

“You can see how he’s grown into his body and the confidence level he’s played with,” Capuano said.  “I think he knows his time is now.”

After mini-camp, Niederreiter went back to work on the finer points of his game.  “I worked on my skating a lot and also shooting,” he said after the first day of rookie camp at the Nassau Coliseum.  “I went to a power skating camp twice for two weeks at a time. I improved a lot…I worked hard, now we’ll see what is going to be.”

He already recognizes the difference between his first training camp a year ago and how he feels this September.  “Last year I was way, way more nervous, I didn’t know what to expect,” Niederreiter admitted. “Now I’ve been through it once and I know what to expect that’s why I feel better this year than last year.”

The increased confidence showed on the ice during the first day of practice. Niederreiter made several sharp passes and felt positive about his performance.  “It was a good day, it was good to see all the boys and everybody’s excited about the rookie games,” Niederreiter said.  “I think it was a good first practice.”

Niederreiter noticed the biggest difference between the WHL and NHL.  “Definitely the speed,” he said. “Everything goes so quick, it’s way faster.  The little things I have to adjust to, I think it’s easier this year as opposed to last year.”

Capuano has already said he was not afraid to go with younger players once the season starts and Niederreiter knows that with a strong training camp, he can play on Long Island for a lot longer than nine games in 2011-12.

“Now I know how hard I have to work to take the next step,” he said.  “I hope it happens this year.”

Written on September 11, 2011

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