The New York Islanders’ 2010 Draft was largely forgettable outside of their two first-round selections. Then general manager Garth Snow chose Nino Niederreiter at fifth overall before trading the Islanders’ 35th and 58th picks to the Chicago Blackhawks to move up to select at number 30, Brock Nelson. Niederreiter had a faster route to the NHL, but Nelson’s ascension to solid scoring forward took hold a bit quicker. It took a trade to the Minnesota Wild, in return for Cal Clutterbuck, for him to catch on as a perennial 20-goal scorer. He continued that trend with the Carolina Hurricanes, but it’s unclear if there’s a return to Raleigh in his future.
Niederreiter has maintained a similar pace throughout his career as a 30-45 point player, and while he wouldn’t be the massive free agent signing or trade the Islanders desperately need to take their offense to the next level, a reunion with him – should he choose to come back to Long Island – could improve their scoring, however marginally.
Niederreiter an Eberle Replacement
Mathew Barzal was arguably his most effective next to Jordan Eberle, and vice-versa, as the slick forward managed to find openings in tight spaces to score some big goals during the Islanders’ runs to back-to-back Stanley Cup semi-finals. Niederreiter doesn’t bring that same flash, but could effectively replace the scoring he brought next to Barzal.
Niederreiter and Eberle have similar numbers throughout their career, with the latter topping out at 34 goals in his second season and the former hitting 25 goals at his peak. This may effectively mean a reunion with Niederreiter would simply get the team’s offense back to where it was during the 2020-21 season, which would be unsatisfactory for many. A season that ended in a 1-0 Game 7 loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning proved the Islanders need more of a scoring punch, something Niederreiter has the potential to provide, but hasn’t yet thus far in his career
How a Niederreiter Reunion Could Work
At 29, it would be a safe guess to say what we’ve seen out of Niederreiter is the type of player he’s going to be. But we’ve seen plenty of players improve at 29, 30, or 31 years old. Just look at Nelson, who popped off for a career-high 37 goals last season after never hitting the 30-goal mark before. Who’s to say that playing next to Barzal, arguably the best center he has ever played with, wouldn’t help raise his game?
According to Cody Hagan of Canes Country, Niederreiter “scored 44 points while almost entirely playing on the third line with Jordan Staal and Jesper Fast and averaging just over 13 minutes per game.” Additionally, my colleague here at The Hockey Writers Mack Gordon mentioned, “he led the Canes in both goals scored per 60 minutes and expected goals scored per 60 minutes (1.1 and 1.09)” last season. So perhaps a better center and a few more minutes of ice time at five on five, and maybe the powerplay, could get him into the 60-plus point plateau.
On a line with say, Oliver Wahlstrom, these wingers would provide Barzal with two good options to pass to. Additionally, Niederreiter is a good two-way forward who is responsible in his own end and has great possession numbers, an important factor when considering who may work on a first line with a more offensive-focused Wahlstrom and Barzal. His underlying numbers at five on five were impressive last season with the Hurricanes too: 60.04 Corsi-for percentage (CF%), 58.91 scoring chance percentage (SCF%), 62.36 expected goals-for percentage (xGF%), and 67.26 goals-for percentage (GF%) as per Natural Stat Trick. It’s entirely possible the trio could be just what the doctor ordered, but it comes with its fair share of risks and questions.
Can Wahlstrom blossom and take the next step this season, scoring up to his potential at say 25-30 goals? Can Niederreiter find the scoring touch that got him drafted at 5th overall in 2010, eclipsing the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career? Will the chemistry work next to Barzal, and can he find his way back to the point-per-game pace that got him the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie? There would be a lot of untapped potential to unlock, and it just might work.
The free agent acquisition of Niederreiter would require Lamoriello to shed Josh Bailey and his remaining two years at $5 million, as Niederreiter is coming off of a five-year, $5.25 million contract. If the Islanders could sign him to a three-year deal at $6 million, bringing him to his age 33 season, it would leave just under $9.5 million to sign Noah Dobson, Kieffer Bellows, and Alexander Romanov without causing all that much trouble signing Barzal following this season. It’s worth noting goaltender Semyon Varlamov and his $5 million come off the books next summer, though they would need to find a backup and re-sign or replace defenseman Scott Mayfield and re-sign restricted free agent Wahlstrom.
No, a Niederreiter reunion isn’t what anyone was asking for this summer, or any previous summer in which there were high profile free agents available for Lou Lamoriello and his predecessors to lure to Long Island. However, to create the deepest roster possible with some great potential, bringing him back may be the best option to consider until the trade deadline rolls around. That way it would allow Lamoriello to keep the few assets he has while at the same time rolling out a slightly improved roster, even if it isn’t to the fans’ liking.
Jon Zella is a 31-year-old, Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.