Nino Niederreiter is set to make his season debut for the Islanders and it couldn’t come at a better time.
The Islanders –- 1-6-3 in their last ten games -- hope Niederreter’s return from a two-week conditioning assignment in Bridgeport might infuse the team’s anemic offense with new life.
The 19-year-old Swiss winger, who was taken by the Islanders fifth overall in the 2010 draft, has yet to play a game this season since suffering a preseason groin injury but is expected to dress in Tuesday’s game against the Rangers.
“I’m super excited,” Niederreiter told ESPNNewYork.com when reached by telephone Monday. “I couldn’t be happier than I am right now. I’m just going to try to take it one day at a time and do what I can to help the team.”
And the team does need help. After dropping nine of their last ten games, the Islanders find themselves mired in last place in the Eastern Conference. A large part of that can be explained by a 29th-ranked offense that has averaged only 2.07 goals per game. Kyle Okposo – who, like Niederreiter, also plays right wing – has not scored a goal in 14 games this season, Josh Bailey has been limited to only one, and Blake Comeau has been held scoreless in 12 games played.
Cue Niederreiter, who possesses an NHL-caliber shot and plays a chippy, physical game. Although it is unclear which forward will sit when he returns, Niederreiter may ultimately earn an audition playing on the team’s first line with Matt Moulson and John Tavares.
Niederreiter, who finished with three goals and one assist in six games for the Sound Tigers, was surprised the injury lingered as long as it did, but feels confident he’s fully recovered.
“It was hard to come back from an injury like that – I’ve never really had anything like that – but I felt like I played pretty good the last two games,” he said. “The first four games were kind of hard, but I felt I got better as the games went on and got some confidence back, too.”
Niederreiter remained with the Islanders for nine games last season before being sent back to his junior club – the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. Heading into his second training camp, Niederreiter seemed poised to crack the team’s roster but his hopes were derailed by injury. Six weeks later, he hopes he can still carve out a spot for himself on the Islanders team.
“It doesn’t look too bad,” Niederreiter said of his chances. “but I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself. I’m just going to go out, have fun. I’m very happy to be back and blessed to be where I am.”