That is a question many fans of both the Portland Winterhawks and New York Islanders are asking themselves as we approach the ninth game of the NHL career of Swiss sensation Nino Niederreiter on Wednesday night in Montreal.
Will he stick with the big club for the 2010-11 NHL season or will he be sent back to Portland to finish out his 18 year old season in the WHL?
It is hard to get a feel from reading the articles out of Long Island as to which way General Manager Garth Snow and Head Coach Scott Gordon are leaning in this decision and it may not be made until Thursday or later as they really don’t have to make a decision until they decide to dress Nino for his 10th game.
Even if Nino plays in more than nine games, the Islanders could send him back to Portland at any time (see James Wright, Luca Sbisa and Gilbert Brule of years past) prior to the January roster deadline in the WHL. But, by playing him in more than nine games, they start the clock on Niederreiter’s entry level contract and also make him a year closer to becoming a free agent at the age of 25.
I’m not going to lobby either way for the decision…it would be great to see Red #22 burst out of the tunnel at the Memorial Coliseum this weekend against the Kelowna Rockets but it would be equally tremendous to see Nino achieve his dream of playing in the NHL on a full-time basis.
The Islanders have had injury issues to start the year with Kyle Okposo, Rob Schremp and others missing time that has opened up some playing time for Nino and he has performed well for a kid who just turned 18 on September 8th. He has the size and desire to play in the NHL and we all know about his infectious personality and team first attitude.
I’ve read some thoughts on an Islanders message board where there is worry amongst some fans that Nino could possibly acquire bad habits by coming back to the Winterhawks. One thing I can say for certain is that Mike Johnston, Travis Green and Kyle Gustafson as a coaching staff work very hard to make sure that bad habits do not become commonplace amongst the players in the Hawks roster. I’ve seen some NHL practices, and what the Hawks staff does is as close to the NHL practice as junior hockey can get.
Getting Niederreiter back in Portland would make a very good Winterhawks team just that much better. He would be a key cog on a deep team and would get a chance to grow and also have a better chance to represent Switzerland at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo in early January. Nino almost earned that spot in Buffalo by himself in Saskatoon last year and he deserves another crack at the best in the world at his age group. The Islanders could still let him have that opportunity by releasing him to play, but the possibility lessens if he sticks in the NHL.
Either way…if he stays in Long Island or returns to Portland…the Winterhawks organization is incredibly blessed for what Nino has brought with him and we can all say that we are proud of what he has done in such a short time in North America. He will always be a Hawk and while we sit on pins and needles waiting for the official word, we can do nothing more than wish the best for Nino, both now and in the future.