The New York Islanders announced late Thursday morning that rookie winger Nino Niederreiter, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2010 entry draft, would be returned to his WHL team, the Portland Winterhawks. The announcement comes just after Niederreiter skated in his ninth NHL game Wednesday night, a 5-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
Under league rules, NHL teams are allowed a nine-game sample run with junior players taken in the previous draft. After that time, the team can either return the player to his junior team or keep him on the NHL roster and start the clock on the player's entry-level contract. By returning Niederreiter to the WHL, the top prospect's deal will not expire until after the 2013-14 season.
The Swiss forward, known by the nickname El Niño, was solid but didn't have a tremendous impact during the Islanders' hot start to the season. Over the nine games he recorded just one goal and one assist while averaging 13:36 of ice time, primarily skating on the third line alongside Doug Weight. Against the Canadiens he failed to record a shot on goal in 14:28 of action.
Many believe the future will be bright for Niederreiter, who turned heads as the top-scorer of the Swiss team at the 2010 World Junior Championships. He was the NHL's youngest player at the start of the season and, at 18 years and 31 days, was the fifth-youngest to play in an NHL game since the 1987-88 season.
The move appears to be a smart one on several levels. First, Niederreiter will see much more ice time with the Winterhawks than the Isles. Even if he's not facing the same level of competition, there's only so much he can grow spending 47 minutes on the bench each night. Second, the Islanders will now enjoy Niederreiter's services when some of their more advanced prospects -- like former No. 1 pick John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey -- are more seasoned and ready to form the core of a true playoff contender. Even if the Islanders do overcome an array of injuries to key players like Okposo and D Mark Streit to crash the postseason party this season, it's unlikely Niederreiter would have been the missing ingredient given the early returns.