There’s no stopping Nino Trade deadline acquisition’s tenacity and fearlessness sets standard for Jets
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LAS VEGAS — Nino Niederreiter has played for five teams over his 11-year NHL career. While the scenery may be different, there’s always been a familiar message at each stop.
“I’ve been on a few teams now and wherever I go, they always said they were happy to have me on their team, that they’re glad they don’t have to play against me anymore,” a smiling Niederreiter told the Free Press Thursday. “I take that as a good thing.”
Now in Winnipeg, acquired by the Jets in a trade with the Nashville Predators at the deadline in early February, Niederreiter has become a favourite of fans and his peers in the locker room. The adoration comes from the style in which he plays the game, as a hard-working, physical presence that isn’t afraid to play in the dirty areas and with a style that often drives opponents nuts trying to stop him.
He’s what you’d call a shift disturber, though his opponents would likely opt for more colourful language to describe him. The 30-year-old isn’t afraid to have his presence felt and is equally committed to playing within the rules. He’s also a scoring threat, averaging more than 20 goals over the past five seasons.
“You knew he could score, had great finish around the net and he’s got a great shot, but the little things you pick up, the nuances of his game, how smart he is positionally, just the way he reads the game, the way he uses his body to get in on the forecheck and win those battles, that is underappreciated when you’re playing against him,” Jets centre Adam Lowry said. “I’ve seen him now the last couple of months, having a chance to play with him on the same line, you start to understand really how good he is at those things. He’s an unbelievable person, too. He’s fit into this room seamlessly and has a great personality. He’s so upbeat and a fun guy to be around, so he’s a great addition to our team.”
The fact he does it consistently is what makes Niederreiter all the more impressive. Lowry said bringing that kind of energy each game has not only improved the Jets roster, but it’s also often sets the bar for the rest of the team.
“He’s in scrums. He’s finishing checks. He’s blocking as many shots as he can. He’s doing a lot of the unheralded things that are necessary to win,” Lowry said, noting forward Vladislav Namestnikov, another pickup at the trade deadline, falls into the same category. “It kind of drags guys into the fight. It’s contagious. You see these guys coming in, they’re doing it night in and night out and it almost forces you to be accountable to yourself and your teammates to try and follow their lead.”
“I’ve been on a few teams now and wherever I go, they always said they were happy to have me on their team, that they’re glad they don’t have to play against me anymore… I take that as a good thing.”–Nino Niederreiter
Niederreiter believes his greatest asset is his tenacity and fearlessness. He respects the rules of the game but has learned over time the importance of straddling the line between right and wrong.
As for where it comes from, Niederreiter said it began as a young kid growing up in Switzerland. Because of his talent at such a young age, he can’t remember a time when he played against people his own age, often competing with players two or three years older.
By the age of 17, he moved to the U.S. to play for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, where he amassed 77 goals and 53 assists for 130 points in 120 games. After one season in Portland, Niederreiter was selected by the New York Islanders with the fifth overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft.
“When I was playing with older players they would try to bully you, but I never held back, I’d keep going in front of the net and I think that’s something which I had to learn early on, being able to play with older teammates,” said the 6-2, 218-pound Niederreiter. “That just carried over to the WHL and that’s where you start kind of seeing that it makes an impact on other teams, whether that’s trying to be a (jerk) in front of the net and just staying there and annoying other players.”
While Niederreiter certainly plays on the edge, unlike most recognized pests in the league, he doesn’t do a lot of trash talking, nor does he prefer to engage in fisticuffs. In fact, Niederreiter has had just one fight over 896 NHL games, including 86 playoff tilts.
His lone scrap came against Max Domi of the Columbus Blue Jackets, while a member of the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2020-21 season. While Niederreiter was assessed the usual five minutes, he barely threw a punch and never dropped either glove.
“He’s the kind of guy that when he’s out there it’s not personal. He’s just one speed and it’s all-out, head down, work hard and go,” Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois, another player who lives on the edge, said. “It doesn’t matter who’s in his way. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best player in the league or if it’s a new guy in his first game, he’ll play the same way, he’ll compete the same.”
“He’s the kind of guy that when he’s out there it’s not personal. He’s just one speed and it’s all-out, head down, work hard and go”–Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois on teammate Nino Niederreiter
Niederreiter certainly looks happy in his new hockey home. He admitted when he joined the Jets, much like every new stop in his journey, including stints with New York, Minnesota, Carolina and Nashville, he didn’t know what to expect.
It didn’t take long, though, to appreciate the Jets organization, from top to bottom, particularly with how they treat the players. Winnipeg is often ranked by NHLers as among the least desirable destinations to play, but Niederreiter is living proof that you have to be there to fully understand what you’re missing.
“It’s the passionate fan base they have. That’s something cool to have, to know how much the team means to the city and as soon as I got here I could tell how much they appreciate the Jets,” he said. “That’s something that a lot of times can be taken for granted if you play somewhere else and that’s something which is really cool.”
Niederreiter remains under contract for one more season, becoming an unrestricted free agent after the 2023-24 campaign. With all the uncertainty surrounding the Jets heading into the off-season, with the potential to see major changes to the roster, Niederreiter’s future with the team seems unclear.
It’s not something he needs to worry about at the moment, but it is something in the back of his mind.
“Once I got traded here, I didn’t know what I was going to be. Was I just going to be a rental for the season and then get shipped off in the summer or is it something where they want me to play longer than just next year?” he said. “It’s definitely an uncertainty, which is on your mind but at the same time I have to try and focus on what I can control. I’ll just keep leaving it all out there and go from there.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
Updated on Thursday, April 27, 2023 7:58 PM CDT: Updates when Niederreiter joined the Jets