Nino Niederreiter, RW Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Born: September 8, 1992 in Chur, Switzerland
Scouting report: Big, skilled and productive winger has the work ethic and moxie to obliterate the Swiss stereotype and forge a long and successful NHL career.
Strengths: Possesses that big frame to play a power forward game; reportedly gained 20 pounds of muscle in the last year and a half and can gain a little more. A natural shooter with a quick trigger and the soft hands to put the puck anywhere he wants. Has a quick stick and can handle the puck with flair as evidenced by his shootout goal in the CHL Top Prospects skills competition. Very nice one-timer that he uses to good effect in the slot. Took to the physical North American game like a duck to water; desired to play in the WHL because it is the roughest of the three CHL venues. Crashes the net hard and takes away goalie sight lines. Will take punishment in front of the net; not afraid to sacrifice the body in the name of helping out his team. Smart two-way player who hustles on the back check and never shirks his responsibilities. Works hard along the wall and down low on the cycle; protects the puck well. Will go for the big hit and initates contact to separate opposition from the puck. When the intensity and physicality in a game picks up, so does he. Plays the game with the exuberance of a kid who would live at the rink if allowed to. Highly intelligent and motivated to make it here; spoke very little English when he arrived in Portland, yet by mid-season was granting interviews fluently. Extremely confident, even borderline cocky, but in a good way; realizes he's a player and embraces the pressure that goes with. Wants the puck on his stick at crunchtime (see: WJC medal-round game vs. Russia) and gives you every ounce of what he has.
Weaknesses: Choppy stride with a slow first few steps; needs to get a bit faster off the mark in order to be more of a threat at the next level (top-end/straight-line speed and east-west movement is fine). May have benefited greatly from an elite playmaker in Ryan Johansen and aggressive left winger in Brad Ross; how will Niederreiter fare with less-skilled linemates, when perhaps he has to do the creating on his own?
Style compares to: Rick Nash, Brendan Shanahan (without the fighting)
Draft prediction: Ninth overall to Minnesota. The best power forward prospect (and name?) in the class is also one of the draft's youngest players, so he has all kinds of appeal to the Wild. "El Niño" has the kind of character and natural leadership potential that every team covets, even if he doesn't live up to the lofty scoring promise his 36 goals this year saddles him with. Niederreiter can play it any way you want, and he might be enough of a commodity to go anywhere from 6-8, based on various rumors and reports. Don't expect him to slip past nine, however. Teammate Ryan Johansen could also go here, or perhaps Russian flash Alexander Burmistrov and possibly even Minnesota defenseman Derek Forbort if the Wild isn't still gunshy after Nick Leddy failed to impress and was dealt to Chicago less than a year after being drafted. A total off-the-board pick here would be local high school star and Minnesota's latest "Mr. Hockey" award winner Nick Bjugstad, but don't see that happening at nine with so much of a smorgasbord of talent at proven higher levels to choose from.
Projection: First- or second-line winger with All-Star potential and 30-goal upside. However, could end up being a third-line grinder/energy guy if his offense doesn't translate because of the skating and creativity questions. He looks like a lock play in the NHL in some capacity, however, because he's so talented and driven. He was a man on a mission: determined when he set out to prove that Swiss players belong in the NHL and that the reputation for being soft and lazy/not committed to the work required to make it in North America is undeserved. Niederreiter took on every challenge in his way and knocked it aside. That's why, even with the small concerns about whether his upside can take him far in this league, you don't want to bet against him.
Background: Born and raised in Chur, a small city (36,000) near the larger metropolitan area of Davos. First really attracted international notice as a member of Team Switzerland in the 2009 World Under-18 Championship in Fargo, N.D. (3-3-6 in six games). Was on the Davos HC senior team roster when they won the Swiss league championship in 2009. Led the Swiss in scoring at the 2010 WJC, scoring 6 goals and 10 points in seven games, leading them to the semifinal before bowing out to Canada; named to the tournament All-Star team. Became the first Portland Winterhawk to score 30+ goals since the 2004-05 season. Scored 8 goals and 16 points in the 2009 postseason (13 games), helping to lead the 'Hawks back from a 3-1 deficit in the opening round to defeat the Spokane Chiefs in Game 7. Lived with same billet family Bart and Bonnie Griswold as fellow 2010 draft prospect defenseman Troy Rutkowski. The Griswolds related a tale that when Niederreiter made his first trip to a local grocery store late last summer, he was so pleased upon seeing Mountain Dew in stock that they bought him a case of it. Followed in friend Luca Sbisa's footsteps by going to the WHL, and ended up becoming Sbisa's teammate when a mid-season trade sent the former 1st-round pick in '08 (and Anaheim prospect via Chris Pronger trade) to Portland. Favorite NHL team growing up: Chicago Blackhawks ("I loved the uniforms!" - Niederreiter to NEHJ; March, 2010) Favorite NHL players: Ilya Kovalchuk and Vincent Lecavalier
"I think I was like four and a half or five, like my best friend, he told me let's go to watch a hockey game and then I went to my hometown club and then we watched the game and the next day I went the first time on the ice. Now it's my passion. It's pretty nice."- Nino Niederreiter to NHL.com on catching the hockey bug
"Of course, like when I left home, it was pretty hard to say bye to my family, actually. I think it was pretty hard, but I know it, like I come over for my passion and I want to play over here in the NHL one day. So that's made me stronger mentally."- Nino Niederreiter to NHL.com
"It's been lonely around the house for the last couple of weeks. Nino is the nicest guy on and off the ice-- he'll do anything for you."- Troy Rutkowski to oregonlive.com; January, 2010
"It's kind of hard not to think about it the NHL draft. Every day, you have someone talking to you about the draft and where I think I will go. I try not to think about it too much, because I think I have to play my best hockey still with the rest of the season, and so I can't be thinking too much about where I might get picked. Things will happen eventually, but I have to keep playing hockey."- Nino Niederreiter to Bruins 2010 Draft Watch; March 2010
“Nino is just one of those guys who made an immediate impression from the very first game. I suppose that the skating could hold him back (at the next level), but I don’t think it will because he’s just such a smart, instinctive player who knows how to get himself into position to score and uses the things he does well to play an all-around game.”- Red Line Report scout Mike Remmerde to New England Hockey Journal; May, 2010
"The biggest difference is the ice size, with it being smaller than in Europe. The game is faster and you have to make decisions in a timely fashion or someone is on top of you with the forecheck. Also, in Switzerland the schedule might see you play three games in a week, compare that with here, where as in the WHL you might play three games in three nights a lot of the time and say, you might play five games in total in a given week."- Nino Niederreiter to McKeen's Hockey Prospects; May, 2010
2 Minutes In The Box With...Nino Niederreiter
Fast-rising Niederreiter May Be A Stretch For B's