One-on-One With Nino Niederreiter
(Photo Credit: MVerminski/Flickr)
Nino Niederreiter was selected fifth overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders. The 6'2, 203 pound left winger has been playing with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. After a 60 point season in 2010, El Nino, as he has been nicknamed, tallied 41 goals and 29 assists for 70 points in 55 games played this year. He also captained Team Switzerland in this year's World Junior Championships and currently leads his team in playoff scoring after a four-game sweep of the Everett Silvertips.
Niederreiter, who was shipped back to the WHL after a nine-game stint with the Islanders at the start of the season, has been working hard all year long at improving his game in hopes of making it back into big club's line-up. So far it's safe to say he is on the right track.
Before Niederreiter gave me a call, he was practicing on the ice with the rest of the team in preparation for their next match-up with the Kelowna Rockets. The 18-year old, who carries a heavy responsibility in leading his team to the finals, was kind enough to take some time to talk hockey with me so Islanders fans can learn more about the team's future star.
How was practice?
It was great actually. I think the whole team is ready. We’re excited for tomorrow and yeah, I’m excited for it.
How did it feel to be the highest drafted Swiss player in NHL history at 5th overall?
It was an amazing feeling, but at the end of the day it’s just a number. At the end my dream is to play one day, (in the NHL) not to just be a drafted player.
In a class that featured players like Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, were you concerned about where you might get drafted that day?
Yeah definitely. I mean I knew those two would probably go first or second and after that I saw Cam Fowler and (Brandon) Gormley were coming up soon and I was actually very surprised that I got drafted where I did by the Islanders, because like I said because of Fowler and Gormley, but in the end I was very happy about it.
Have you been following the Islanders this year?
Oh yeah I have been following them every day. Every day I am checking up the web site and looking at who got called up and who’s playing. I follow every step.
After getting drafted you reported to training camp with the Islanders and then ended up playing the first 9 games of the year. What was it like to jump to the NHL so quickly?
It was incredible. Just living the dream while I was up there. I was surprised that so many players were hurt and I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it or not. I was just taking it day by day and at the end I was very excited that I made it for the first nine games…but at the end it was such an unreal experience in the NHL and to make it as a player.
Who had the best impression on you in your time spent with the Islanders this season?
I think that a lot of the players, but at the end Dougie Weight, he talked a lot with me and even before the season, most guys like Andrew MacDonald. He was just a great guy, we played tennis together and stuff like that. The guys really are the best.
Has Garth Snow talked with you this season about joining the team next year?
No, actually not really at all, no. He called me a couple times asking how I was doing but he never really asked about or talked about next season. He just wants me to go as far as possible with the team and then we’ll see about next year.
What were your first impressions of Long Island when you arrived over the summer?
I actually never heard about the place before, (Long Island) and then I was up there. They flew me in right after the Combine and I actually saw Long Island. To be at the beach, it was just beautiful. I was lucky that I could go very early to Long Island for the welcoming camp and in August again and then I mean it was almost every day at the beach, just looking around for beautiful spots. It was just great.
Who was the first person you called when you scored your first NHL goal?
Definitely my Mom. It just was an amazing feeling, especially when I scored against Washington. It was just an amazing feeling. I mean just playing NHL 11, to play against amazing players like Crosby or whatever, or Ovechkin, and then to actually play against those guys and realize it. It was just an amazing feeling.
(Photo Credit: Patxi64/Flickr)
What did it mean to you to Captain Team Switzerland at this year’s World Juniors?
It was a great, great feeling, a great opportunity for me to show that I can be a leader for our team, and I also wanted to lead us this year, so I think it helped me too.
You had 10 more points this year in 10 less games than you did last season with the
Winterhawks. What would you say was the difference?
I think I got faster, I got stronger. I had my experience in the NHL which I think helped me too. At the end I think I had a kind of slow start in the WHL but then I got stronger and stronger at the end and I think I finished pretty good.
You had a great playoff series with the Everett Silvertips, defeating them in four games and leading your team in scoring with 10 points, putting you third in the league.
We had a good start in the playoffs, we swept Everett. I thought Everett was going to be stronger, I really expected that Everett was going to be stronger than they were. I think it was kind of an easy start for us but I think it’s getting tough now with Kelowna. I definitely had a good run but in the end it’s all about the team and I hope we go as far as possible as a team this year.
Were there any other professions you considered when you were young before choosing hockey?
I was playing soccer too a little bit. I decided okay, what should I play here, soccer or hockey? I actually decided pretty quickly that I wanted to stay with hockey. It’s just a phenomenal sport, being on the ice and I love the weather too.
Are you rooting for anyone to win this year’s Stanley Cup?
No actually, no I won’t. I mean Vancouver looks pretty strong and Philadelphia. But at the end, I mean, both teams are going to make the Cup this year but I think that Vancouver Canucks look pretty strong out there.
Were there any specific players that you looked up to?
Yeah, actually. I feel like Ilya Kovalchuk and Vincent Lecavalier and even Mike Modano. Those were the types of players that I looked up too.
Is there any team you prefer to use when playing NHL 2011?
My buddy and I, he got drafted by Colorado and we like to play. Sometimes we play Islanders against Colorado. We have some close games.
It's times like these that I have to remind myself that Niederreiter is close enough in age to be my younger brother. My younger brother who is taller than me, stronger than me, has played in the NHL and could kick my ass with ease.
But I bet that I could still beat him in a game of NHL 2011.
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