All the talk about the infusion of youth on the New York Islanders always starts with John Tavares. That does not mean that there aren't other well-deserving young players who are looking to change the future of the team and create their own legacy.
Swiss Forward Nino Niederreiter is the top prospect on the Islanders who is not with the professional club right now, gaining seasoning with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League (WHL). On Sunday, he scored his second goal of the game to lead the team to a 6-5 overtime victory over Spokane, extending the club's winning streak to five games. He finished with two goals and one assist.
Before drafting "El Nino," as he is nicknamed, with the fifth pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft, the Islanders were drooling over his skills and the team-first attitude that he brings every game. The highest drafted Swiss player ever, the 6'2" forward has dominated at every level and, at only 17, was mature ahead of his time in the under-20 league.
From 2006-2008, he racked up 133 points in two seasons (69 games). From 2008-2010, including playing with the Winterhawks during the 2009-2010 season, the Swiss star scored 106 points in 101 games. He was opening eyes but jaws began to really drop during the 2010 World Junior Championships when the Swiss upset the Russians with a 3-2 victory. El Nino scored six goals in seven games against top competition, causing his draft stock to rise significantly, originally predicted to be a mid-first-round pick.
He was fortunate to start the season on the big league club, tallying only a goal and an assist but displaying his high ceiling with tough and aggressive play, along with skilled puck work and swift skating. While the stats weren't astounding, he was consistently involved in plays and not hesitant to check against boards, using his big frame as an advantage. Many young players are timid and afraid to make mistakes but he showed confidence and excitement, two traits that are contagious for a team looking to be energetic.
After nine games with the Islanders, he was sent down to the Winterhawks and currently has 20 goals and 16 assists (36 points) in 32 games. He is still only 18 years old and finding his way but the stats are there. While he needs a year or two more of seasoning, it is far from ludicrous to envision the Islanders bringing him up, as seen with their handling of Josh Bailey and John Tavares.
El Nino has great size at 6'2" and 200 pounds but what separates him is his balance, allowing him to be dominant against the boards. He is savvy, relentless and never stops competing as shown in his clutch play during the international competitions.
He has rare creativity for a big man, proving he can score at every level, and is on the road to becoming a household name in the NHL. With his great attitude and gritty play, along with his unique skills and maturity, he seems on the cusp of stardom. El Nino and Tavares will be a tandem to be reckoned with for years to come.