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Nino Niederreiter is gone and I hate it

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NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Minnesota Wild Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

He arrived a problem child. Nino’s games, points, and experience as the Islanders’ former 1st round pick weren’t increasing. He came to the Wild, as a draft day trade for Cal Clutterbuck and a 3rd round pick. Chuck Fletcher completed a fleecing.

I know I wasn’t sure who the heck the Swiss forward was when the Wild acquired him. I just knew I liked to say his name. It kind of rolled off the tongue in a fun way, and was more fun to spell. I try and take pride in knowing how to say and spell hockey player names. The languages from which they come, the crazy pronunciations, and sometimes way too many consonants together in one word. Nino Niederreiter became one of my personal favorite players of this modern Wild era. I hate that Nino is gone. I absolutely hate it.

It was my first year in my blogging...career, I guess you could call it, for the lack of a better term. Talking hockey among other smart people, especially like Ger Devine, who taught me about stat analytics. We quickly saw how good Nino was, and what his potential could be. We started the #FreeNino campaign in an effort to see his minutes rise. We thought that if he could just get more ice time, the goals and assists would go up. His best may have been when he was placed on a line with Erik Haula and Jason Pominville. That line carried the Wild out of a swoon and into the post-season. That line even shined in the Stadium Series. They combined for three goals and five assists in a 6-1 drubbing of the Chicago Blackhawks. I hate that Nino is gone. I absolutely hate it.

Niederreiter had perhaps his best moment in Game 7 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal against the Avalanche. In overtime, Dany Heatley corralled the puck after Ilya Bryzgalov made his one and only save of the game and sent it immediately up ice to Kyle Brodziak on a 2-on-1 break. Nino took the pass from Brodziak at the Colorado line, then took one of his patented #SillyHard wristers from the right offensive circle that absolutely beat Semyon Varlamov over the glove. It made an incredible ring as it caught the inside of the crossbar, hit the center support, and popped back out so quickly that my jubilation in my living room was delayed by a few seconds. I hate that Nino is gone. I absolutely hate it.

Niederreiter nearly had some late game heroics in the post-season two years later. The same post-season that saw the Pominville - Haula - Niederreiter line carry the offensive weight with Zach Parise ruled out because of a back injury. The Wild forced 6 games in the series that they had almost no business being in in the first place. In Game 6 the Wild almost bowed out with nary a whimper. A ferocious come back late in the third period was almost capped off with a Niederreiter goal. It took a long, pain-staking replay review by the officials to ultimately deny the Wild a chance to force a Game 7. We had obtuse angles show the puck was across the line, but the direct overhead was inconclusive. I hate that Nino is gone. I absolutely hate it.

Who could forget the hat trick Niederreiter had last season? After returning to the ice from a high ankle sprain Nino found the net three times for his second career hat trick. He appeared to be moving well, closed the gap on loose pucks well, and showed no visible signs of pain. We later found out that Niederreiter would be lost again for some more extended time because he had a fractured fibula in his right leg. It was mostly a lost season, especially if he wanted to reach 30 goals. However, that night was pinnacle Niederreiter. I hate that Nino is gone. I absolutely hate it.

Niederreiter’s underlying stats were always very good. In straight Corsi For percentage, he was always among the top on the team, and ranked with some of the better players in the league in the same category. Since arriving in Minnesota, number 22 has been +50% CF player, with the lowest performance coming during his first season with the Wild. His best years were 2015-16 and 2016-17. He was on the rise. We thought he was on the come. He thought he was on the cusp of something big. Prior to last year, his point production was on a steady incline. Prior to last year, he was on the unofficial Hockey Wilderness list of untouchable trade assets. He got paid $5.25 million AAV, in the summer of 2017, and willingly took the payment without a No-Trade Clause, something that Chuck Fletcher had basically handed out like candy to other players. No one bat an eye because we all saw that the points were going to come. I hate that Nino is gone. I absolutely hate it.

I hate that I have to admit that while he has become one of my favorites on the team, he hasn’t been great. Even if his underlying numbers still show him playing a strong game, the streaky nature of his point production, long goal droughts, and inconsistent effort drove us mad. I hate that I have to come to grips that some of the criticisms of Nino was valid. That he wasn’t the same Nino since his ankle sprain and broken fibula pains me. I hate that while other streaky forwards on the Wild are more than deserving of the trade bait label, Nino was certainly deserving of it this year too. Nino wasn’t the only problem with the Wild, but he was part of a much larger issue with the squad.

He had aspirations of joining the 30-goal club last year before the injuries sidelined him for 19 games. His size, his shot, and the skill is there. He was the highest drafted Swiss-born player into the NHL until Nico Hischier became the first overall pick in 2017. He was often the player that moved up and down the line-up to get a particular line going. He was versatile, and even if he wasn’t scoring, he definitely had value elsewhere on the ice. I hate that while a great trade, and the value the Wild have received from Nino was great, he will likely become another player that didn’t reach full potential in a Wild sweater.

Speaking of sweaters, I hate that I have another Wild player’s jersey hanging up in my closet that has been traded away.

I hate that Nino is gone. I absolutely hate it.