No one can say for now what kind of impact or role Nino Niederreiter will have with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Will he come up big for the Canes, be a solid player, be something of a bust? Can his experience help carry the Canes back to playoffs for the first time since 2009 or will his offseason, this year, begin in early April?
Niederreiter, acquired Thursday in the Canes’ trade with the Minnesota Wild, has been a consistent goal-scorer the past four seasons. But the Swiss-born forward didn’t score his first goal this season until the Wild’s 15th game, later had a gap of another 12 games between goals and had nine in 46 games before the trade, which may explain why he was deemed expendable by Wild general manager Paul Fenton.
Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Friday before the Ottawa Senators game that he was pleased to add a player like Niederreiter to the lineup.
“He had some good years in (Minnesota),” Brind’Amour said. “This year, for whatever reason he didn’t get quite the opportunity he had in the past so we’ll hopefully give him tons of opportunity and get the most out of him. He’ll be in a top role for sure and he’ll get lots of minutes.”
Niederreiter, in his 499th career game, was in the starting lineup Friday on a line with captain Justin Williams that was centered by Greg McKegg. He had 16:57 of ice time in the Canes’ 4-1 loss to the Sens at PNC Arena.
“It was definitely a big change, especially emotionally,” Niederreiter said Saturday. “You spend a lot of quality years in Minnesota and all of a sudden things are changing and you’re playing for a new organization, with a new system and new group of guys. But at the end of the day we all play hockey and you’ve got to read off each other, and that’s what I kind of did last night.”
Williams, for one, came away impressed.
“Nino’s great,” Williams said. “He’s strong, he was talkative, he was patient with the puck. I thought he was really good. He had a lot of opportunities and owned the front of the net pretty well. I thought we had a lot of good chances together.”
On his first shift, Niederreiter nearly had a breakaway off a stretch pass from defenseman Justin Faulk but couldn’t quite corral the puck. He finished the game with four shots on goal and another four that were blocked.
“He was fine,” Brind’Amour said. “I said it in the locker room, I apologized to him for that effort. That’s not our team and that’s his first game, so I’m sure he thinks we’re ... I’m not sure what he thinks right now.”
Niederreiter probably needed time to clear his head after a whirlwind two days. He was told Thursday at 2 p.m. that the trade had been made -- the Canes sending center Victor Rask to the Wild -- and said he had a 5:20 p.m. flight to Raleigh.
“I packed as much as I could but it was a quick turnaround,” he said.
Niederreiter was an early arrival at PNC Arena on Friday for a skull session on how the Canes do things before going through the morning skate.
“The guy’s been around. He picks up on stuff quick,” Brind’Amour said after the skate. “Our system may be a little different than what he’s used to but he’s a smart enough player he’ll adapt.”
Niederreiter was surrounded by media in the locker room after the skate, smiling, saying all the right things about playing his first game.
“You just want to do your best and make sure you have that good first impression and don’t put too much pressure on yourself,” he said. “It’s something I haven’t done at all but something I’m excited about it.”
It’s not Niederreiter’s first trade. A first-round draft pick by the New York Islanders in 2010, taken fifth overall, he played 64 games for the Isles -- scoring his first NHL goal at age 18 -- but was dealt to Minnesota in June 2013 and was a playoff hero for the Wild in his first season.
This one was different. This one came a little more than midway through the season and still a month away from the NHL trade deadline. While Niederreiter’s name had been mentioned in trade speculation this past summer, he was surprised by the timing.
“It’s definitely, not difficult but definitely kind of emotional,” he said. “You’re opening up a new chapter and you’re part of a new organization. It’s kind of nerve-racking but I’m excited about it.”
When the starting lineup was announced Friday, Niederreiter received a nice hand from the crowd of 15,598. The rest would be mostly frustrating. It was a loss. But also a new start.
“I’m very happy and excited to be a part of this young group of guys here and feel I have a bright future,” he said.