Minnesota Wild: Nino Niederreiter Has Earned a Larger Role

Nino Niederreiter has earned a larger role on the Minnesota Wild this season with excellent past play and plenty of potential for more good play.

After three seasons spent largely on the team’s third line, Nino Niederreiter is ready for a bigger role on the Minnesota Wild. He finished third on the team in goals and fourth in points (20+23=43) last season in a checking role that had him focused more on the defensive end.

Towards the end of the year, playing with Erik Haula and Jason Pominville, he picked up his pace even further. He scored six points (1+5=6) in the team’s playoff series with the Dallas Stars, good enough for second on the team behind line mate Pominville.

Now there may be a temptation to have him start the season on the same line that worked so well together last season. But while he has shown that he is capable of putting up huge numbers for a third line winger and depth is an important part of any successful NHL team, he has earned a larger role this upcoming season.

Translation, if he can put up in excess of 40 points in a somewhat handicapped role with only 15:33 time on the ice on average, what do you think Nino could do if he were elevated to the second line and played with say Koivu and Granlund on that line? Playing with that type of talent it is not hard to imagine him putting up point totals in the 50s or above if all goes as planned.

The other aspect to look at is the makeup of the lines. Currently, the Wild are projected to have Jason Zucker skate on the second line with Koivu and Granlund. Zucker has shown in the past to be capable of scoring goals, but a player in the top 6 should be more than just a goal scoring threat. Last year there were major questions about his work ethic and commitment to the defensive end. Add in that he only scored a grand total of 13 goals last season, down from 21 the year before and Zucker is not a player that has earned a spot in the top six.

Contrast Zucker with Niedrreiter, who is coming off a very successful season in which he set career highs in assists and points playing on the third line. Also he is used to playing responsible defense and is known as a big body willing to throw his weight around and do dirty work in front of the net. All of those qualities will help the second line perform much better. Especially given that Granlund can fill much the same role (and be more productive) as Zucker, being more of a speed guy.

Based off play last season and the needs of the second line as the depth chart is currently constructed, Nino Niederreiter has earned the opportunity to skate on the second line this upcoming season.  Let’s see what Boudreau thinks heading out of training camp.