Nino Niederreiter has been in it for the long haul since arriving in Minnesota. Since being traded for Cal Clutterbuck at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Niederreiter has played 80 games or more in each season for the Wild. His arrival, along with other 2010 draft picks (Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, and Mikael Granlund), has helped round out the young corp of prospects that the team will eventually have to transition to as the 30-something veterans age and near the ends of their careers.
Niederreiter has amassed just 73 points in 161 games with the Wild, but none was more important or iconic in his career than his game winner in Game 7 of the 2014 Western Conference quarterfinals. In case you forgot:
But then he followed up his 14 goal season with 24 goals last season, which was good enough for 2nd on the team, behind only Zach Parise. What's more is the fact that he's 23 years old. He has a big body, a #SillyHard shot, and is still young with room to develop.
Knightrider, as we affectionately call him, is a positive possession player, right on par with the likes of Parise and Mikko Koivu over the same amount of games, and with more defensive zone starts than the aforementioned players. He gets the job done in both ends effectively and does things to control the play.
The Wild power play was woeful last season, but Nino was a bright spot, as he scored 6 goals on the power play, ranking him the 2nd best goal scorer on the team with the man-advantage. However, his deployment was nearly half of those players that made up the top power play unit. It is safe to assume that had he had equal deployment that Nino could have matched or surpassed the power play production of Parise.
Which brings me to what has possibly held him back - deployment. Niederreiter only sees a quarter of the total TOI and is the second leading goal scorer on the team. How doesn't he get more ice time? Nino is a 53 FF% player with a 1.84 FF%Rel number while getting a the majority of his zone starts either in the neutral zone of defensive zone. Seriously, only 27 percent of his zone starts come in the offensive zone.
Niederreiter has had his defensive game called in to question - a narrative that was said once and then pounced upon by media types that ran with it. But that narrative was based on his team worst plus/minus mark, yet when you dug into the numbers, the -13 was mostly due to just bad goaltending and a series of unfortunate circumstances with which he had very little control over. In fact, he turns defense to offense and drives the play towards the offensive zone quite effectively. If there are any defensive deficiencies in his game, there are difficult to notice or you're just being incredibly nit-picky.
We at Hockey Wilderness have always held Niederreiter in high regard and feel that he could realize his true potential with more time on ice, better deployment, and even more time on the power play. His promising start to his career in Minnesota, plus the time he still has to develop the finer factions of his game are the reasons he lands at number three on our list.