It was a warm late June day when Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher sent fan favorite Cal Clutterbuck, as well as a third round pick, to the New York Islanders for a young forward nicknamed El Nino. Nino Niederreiter was said to have demanded a trade after he and his agent felt that he was mishandled by the Isle brass. Islanders' general manager Garth Snow obliged and found a fitting dance partner in Fletcher. The draft day swap sent ripples through the Wild fan base.
Niederreiter was highly coveted by both Fletcher and his assistant Brent Flahr in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Instead, he was taken 5th overall by the Islanders.
The Wild ended up selecting Mikael Granlund, which turned out to be a great selection prior to his concussion injury.
There were, and are still, some Wild fans that are up in arms about moving Clutterbuck. He was a fan favorite in Minnesota because his physical play antagonized opposing players to the point that he could draw penalties. He drew the ire of opposing teams' fan bases because he checked players indiscriminately. He hit anything that moved. Clutterbuck amassed 356 hits in his rookie year, breaking the previous single-season record of 311. He also had a knack for shooting high on goaltenders. Twice in his career in Minnesota he eclipsed the 15-goal mark. But his production slowed toward the end of the 2011-12 season and Clutterbuck could only produce 10 points (4g, 6a) in the lockout shortened season of 2013. In his final season with Minnesota his effectiveness on the ice had started to dwindle. The lack of point production, being a career minus player (minus-27 with MN), and with one year left on his contract, the time was right for him to be moved.
In walks Nino Niederreiter. The kid played nine games with New York in his rookie season, and then played 55 games the following year. He had one goal in the 55 games and was a minus-29. His poor defensive play and non-existent offense parlayed into not receiving an invite for training camp in 2013. Nino never saw the NHL in the lockout season.
Upon entering the locker room for training camp in Minnesota, he was told nothing was guaranteed and that he will have to battle with other kids that have been in the system like Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Justin Fontaine, and Erik Haula, Battle he did. His big frame and hard shot impressed many during training camp. Niederreiter cemented himself in the line-up because of his versatility to play different roles and his "silly hard" shot.
Niederreiter has potted 6 goals and 11 assists in 37 games played this season with Minnesota while averaging 14 minutes per game. His presence around the net and willingness to get scrappy in front of opposing goalies has helped endear himself to Wild fans. Nino almost thrives on a few face washes in the after-whistle scrums. "To be honest, just go in there and just stay there. Other teams don't want to see any players besides their guys there, so it helps your team to go there. You could draw penalties out of it or get a dirty goal," Nino said in an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
While Nino has impressed the Wild brass and Wild fans, Clutterbuck has not done the same on Long Island. He suffered a leg laceration from a skate during the first preseason game of the year and missed four weeks. He has been slotted into a third line role and averages 13 minutes per game. Clutterbuck has 4 goals and 2 assists this season with the Islanders, and is a minus-5 in 31 games played.
The Islanders just beat the Rangers Friday night 2-0 at Madison Square Garden in which Clutterbuck was awarded a penalty shot on a seemingly harmless play from Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Here's the video for that whole sequence:
The penalty shot goal was Clutterbuck's first goal in 8 games and the only goal for the month of December. Niederreiter's last goal came on 12/14 in the shootout win against the Colorado Avalanche. It was his first goal in 10 games, but he has gathered assists along the way. He also hasn't been a liability either. Niederreiter is a plus-7 on the season.
While the trade hasn't been exactly lop-sided, the ceilings for each player are very different. Clutterbuck may have reached his peak here in Minnesota in 2010-11 when he scored 19 goals and 17 assists. No one has seen what Niederreiter can do yet. "He's been a goal scorer his whole life," Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr said to Michael Russo. "As he adjusts to the league and learns to buy space, he'll score." After the very disappointing seasons with New York, there can't be anywhere else to go but up.