Nino Niederreiter is gearing up for his fourth season with the Minnesota Wild as he represents Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey. The Swiss forward was acquired by the Wild from the New York Islanders for Cal Clutterbuck and a third round pick in the 2013 draft. Niederreiter is a tantalizing talent, effective on both ends of the ice.
Across three seasons with the Wild, El Nino has 116 points in 243 games, good for a 0.48 PPG. Last season Niederreiter was one of 28 players to score at least 20 goals and get at least 120 hits. At 6-2, 211 lbs, Niederreiter has a rare combination of size, skill, and skating ability allowing him to battle down low or snipe from the top of the circle.
Niederreiter is a force at both ends of the ice. He drives play as good as the NHL’s best and is fantastic limiting shots towards the goal. The Swiss forward also had this season’s highest dCorsi Impact. Here are a few notes on where he stands in possession and scoring categories among forwards (minimum 750 minutes, Score, Zone, and Venue Adjusted).
- Only Patrice Bergeron had a greater possession impact on his respective team than Niederreiter
- Only Sean Couturier and Patrice Bergeron had a better relative xGF%.
- Only Couturier had a better relative scoring chances%.
- 27 players had a higher CF%, 8 had a better CA/60 than El Nino’s 48.13 CA/60
- 4 Players had a better xGF%.
- 6 players had a better Scoring Chances For% and he was 21st in individual Scoring Chances For/60
There were few players who played as well defensively than El Nino. Niederreiter’s relative CA/60 was second to only Blake Comeau by 0.01. The Swiss winger’s impact is more impressive because he played on a better team. Moreover, only 7 forwards had a superior CA/60, with five of those players coming from the Kings. Tampa Bay’s Brian Boyle had a slightly superior xGA/60. Niederrieter’s defensive game is elite. If there was an award for the best defensive winger, you would be hard pressed to find a better option than El Nino. He definitely should have gotten a few Selke votes.
Production wise, Niederreiter ranked 72nd in Primary Points/60. This was ahead of notable players such as Claude Giroux, Derrick Brassard, Leon Draisatl, and Minnesota native Zach Parise. 38 of his 43 points came at even strength. The tantalizing aspect of Niederreiter is that he can beat you in so many ways.
He’s not afraid of standing in front of the net looking for a tip or rebound goal (Streamable):
He has a good shot (Streamable):
On occasion, Niederreiter will showcase his mitts (Streamable):
He has the patience to wait for the goalie to make a mistake and the accuracy to put the puck where he wants it to go. After Varlamov commits, El Nino shoots the puck under his blocking arm for the goal.
Due to his elite defensive impact, it will be interesting to see if Boudreau plays him on the penalty kill. The Wild’s PK ranked 27th in the league last season. By adding a defensively responsible player who can win battles along the board, the Wild’s penalty killing would be more proficient.
Last season Niederreiter played 324 minutes with Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker. This line was arguably the best defensive line last season in the NHL. They combined for a CA/60 43.78 and an xGA/60 of 1.63. That CA/60 ranked second among forward lines with at least 250 minutes played. The xGA/60 was first, ahead by a significant margin over the second place Islanders line featuring Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, and Nikolai Kulemin (xGA/60 of 1.82). In addition, the Niederrieter-Koivu-Zucker line combined for the third best xGF%. His second most common line mates were Jason Pominville and Erik Haula. This trio were better at getting shots towards the net; however, they were more porous defensively. While the line centered by Koivu was more proficient at dominating play, the line centered by Haula scored more goals per 60 minutes. With Bruce Boudreau saying Eric Staal will start with Zach Parise, it will be interesting to see if he puts Niederreiter on the Koivu line or the Haula line. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, however it is hard not to put Niederreiter on the Koivu line after they were so dominant.
In his fantastic piece on The Players Tribune, Niederreiter outlines how hockey is played in Switzerland. From the focuses on skating, positioning, and shooting which are apparent whenever you watch El Nino, to the challenges he faced when he came over the North America, the piece is an interesting look into the Swiss hockey program and Niederreiter himself.
Niederreiter will be a key player for the Minnesota Wild this season. Contributing more offensively while being fantastic in his own end will be vital if the Wild hope to make the playoffs. Niederreiter had a Selke worthy season last year. The Wild would be wise to increase his ice time and let him make a greater impact. All that’s left for Niederreiter is to put his offensive tools to use with increased consistency and proficiency. With a greater opportunity Niederreiter, in addition to being a key cog for the Wild and important Swiss Hockey figure, could be on his way to becoming a star player in the NHL.