Only a handful of games into the season and it is apparent that the lockout has allowed certain players to shine. For the past couple of seasons the New York Islanders have had trouble putting a string of wins together. In return, they have drafted a group of highly talented hockey players. Nino Niederreiter, a 20 year old from Switzerland, was drafted by the Islanders 5th overall in the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Last year, “El Nino” played 55 games with the Isles but only registered one goal. This stat does not seem impressive, and it shouldn’t, but Niederreiter struggled because of his age.
Every player matures at his own rate. Although he didn’t turn any heads last year, in only two games Niederreiter has already begun doing so this season with the Islanders AHL affiliates, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. In two games, Niederreiter has notched two goals and two assists, leading his team to two victories. Niederreiter is now starting to shine because he has been given the opportunity. Unlike his days in the NHL last season, Nino is a leader on and off the ice, and is looked at to be a large part of the Sound Tigers potentially championship winning season.
A reoccurring problem in the NHL, and in all sports, is pushing rookies to perform at the top level. Nino has shown off his talents, so there is no doubting they are there, but after last season he may not be ready to use them against the pros. Playing this season in the minors will help him to remove any kinks left in his game, and return with force when the NHL resumes. There are many players in similar situations as Niederreiter, even some in the Islanders organization.
The Islanders have a plethora of young talent that could bring back a dynasty to the Island. The team Bridgeport has assembled is stacked all the way threw with top prospects from the past few years. Along with Niederreiter, players such as Travis Hamonic, Casey Cizikas, Calvin de Haan, Johan Sundstrom, and Anders Nilsson have all showcased their talents on the world stage in the World Junior Championships; now they are expected to grow into NHL stars.
In order for these players to grow, they need time to gain experience in the AHL. The lockout is good for no one, but it will give teams like the Islanders additional time for their players to complete their game. Come the return of the NHL, fans will be expecting familiar faces from their AHL team to be with the big club. In a perfect world, the NHLPA will accept the new 50/50 offer when they discuss it Tuesday night over a conference call, and we can resume play on the 2nd of November. If this is the case, it will be very interesting to see who stays in the minors to develop and who is called up.