The World Cup of Hockey Group Stage started this past weekend, and the first game played saw Nino Niederreiter grab an assist during Team Europe’s 3-0 win over Team USA.
Interestingly enough, Niederreiter had the highest points per 60 minutes played in the entire tournament after the game at 8.67. He was followed by Leon Draisaitl at 8.27 and Tobias Reider at 6.41. Just more proof he’s great, right?
Well, not quite.
At that time, there had only been one game played, there wasn’t any player on Team Europe with more than one point, and, most importantly, Niederreiter only had 6:55 minutes of ice time (the lowest on Team Europe, and above only David Backes for all players). Even from a non-”Knightrider” fan standpoint, this seems a little crazy. In Team Europe’s last exhibition game, Draisaitl scored a hat trick and Niederreiter was a big part of two of them with two assists. Niederreiter has done well with the time he and his line were given, but with an average ice time of 10:24 after four games, it makes one wonder what he has to do to earn more ice time. In order to get more ice time, he probably has to score even more, but it will be hard to score more sufficiently if he doesn’t get much more ice time than 7 minutes a night.
In any case, if the Draisatl line had the hot hand going into Saturday's game, then why did they have the lowest ice times on the team? Special Teams. Team Europe had 8 minutes on the power play and 8 short handed minutes. Meanwhile, Niederreiter played only 34 seconds on the power play and didn’t have any short handed time. Initially, this may ruffle some feathers, especially here at Hockey Wilderness, but between Team Europe’s roster and how Niederreiter performed on the power play last year, it’s not all that surprising.
Who had more power play ice time than Niederreiter anyways? They include: Mark Streit with 2:59, Christian Ehrhoff with 2:03, Anze Kopitar with 4:29, Marian Gaborik with 3:54, Tomas Tatar with 4:01, Thomas Vanek with 2:03, Leon Draisaitl with 2:03, Frans Nielsen with 3:23, Roman Josi with 4:11, Mats Zuccarello with 3:31, and Marian Hossa with 4:28. Perhaps you could try to make an argument for Niederreiter to replace one of the defensemen, but playing him at the point isn’t the best use of his skills. After them, you could try to make an argument of swapping Thomas Vanek (who played at the goalmouth during the power play) or Marian Hossa with Niederreiter. However, both of them performed markedly better on the power play last season than Niederreiter, so that could be a stretch as well.
How exactly did Niederreiter perform on the power play last year? He had a total of 152:15 minutes of power play time, which was the eighth highest on the team, and only 5 of his 43 points came on the power play. All of the following was obtained from Hockey Analysis and is of players with at least 50 minutes played on the power play (12 players total), which includes Reilly and Zucker who had 53 and 61 minutes of power play respectively. He had the second lowest (11th) shots for/60 and the second lowest points/60 at 1.97. I wasn’t quite expecting those numbers, but last season Niederreiter apparently shone much brighter at even strength than he did on the power play.
If he won’t be getting any extra time on ice from the power play, what about on the penalty kill? Well, according to Hockey Analysis, Niederreiter didn’t play a single minute short handed last season. In fact, Thomas Vanek played more on the penalty kill than Niederreiter did with 1:22 minutes. While Niederreiter has certainly improved defensively over the past few years, it’s hard to determine how he could perform on Team Europe’s penalty kill with the information we have.
Hopefully there is less special team time during the rest of the tournament, but with his catch 22 on ice time, it could be hard for Niederreiter to make a name for himself at the World Cup of Hockey