It’s understandable if Garth Snow, GM of the New York Islanders, hasn’t been following these playoffs. Not only would he have to watch Thomas Vanek star with the Montreal Canadiens, he’d also have see Nino Niederreiter shine for the Minnesota Wild.
Each used to be an Islander. Both were traded by Snow. Neither brought much in return.
Of the two, Vanek is the higher profile player, for whom Snow traded first- and second-round picks, along with Matt Moulson, to acquire him early this season from the Buffalo Sabres but got back just a second-round pick from the Habs when he dealt him away before the trade deadline. Yet Niederreiter might be the more difficult loss to take of the two. After all, ‘El Nino’ is just 21 years old and is showing the scoring form Snow and the Islanders had hoped to see in New York after they drafted him fifth overall in 2010.
Niederreiter scored the winning goal in Minnesota’s 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Friday night to even their second-round series 2-2. It was his third goal of the playoffs and second game winner.
Last summer, Snow dealt Niederreiter to Minnesota for all of Cal Clutterbuck and a third-round pick. It brought to an end a relationship that was rough at its best, rocky at its worst.
As an 18-year-old, Niederreiter made the Islanders roster out of training camp in 2010-11, but he stuck for all of nine games, scoring just one goal and adding one assist, before being sent back to the Portland Winterhawks of the Western League. He made the team again in 2011-12, and this time he played 55 games, but with even worse results. He scored just one goal again, and he didn’t even have a single assist.
In 2012-13, while NHL was in a lockout, Niederreiter played for the Islanders’ American League affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. When the NHL returned to action, however, the Islanders left him there, all season long, in fact. They didn’t even invite him to training camp. He scored 28 goals and had 50 points in the AHL.
After Niederreiter requested a trade at the end of the season, he was dealt, and Snow has watched him show signs of becoming the scoring sensation they drafted him to be.
Niederreiter had 14 goals and 36 points in 81 games with the Wild, averaging just over 14 minutes of ice time per game. He’s played in every game of the post-season for the Wild and has three goals and six points. He scored the biggest goal of his career when he snapped the overtime, series-clinching winner past Semyon Varlamov in Game 7 against the Colorado Avalanche, on the road, in Round 1.
Now Niederreiter and the Wild head back to Chicago for Game 5 tied 2-2 in the series. It’s the same script they followed in their first-round matchup against the Avalanche. Minnesota lost Games 1 and 2 in Colorado, then tied the series with wins at home in Games 3 and 4. The two teams traded home ice wins in Games 5 and 6 before Niederreiter gave the Wild the one road win they needed in Game 7.
If Snow is watching, he must surely be wondering why he gave up a potential first-line scorer, who was just 20 years old when he traded him, for a third-line plugger. No surprise, then, that Snow and the Islanders are planning for next season, while Niederreiter and the Wild look to extend theirs into Round 3.
Ronnie Shuker is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRonnieShuker.
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