Written By Giles Ferrell (ZoneCoverage.com)
Anytime Minnesota Wild fans log on and take a look at the Carolina Hurricanes, they find another update that former Wild forward Nino Niederreiter has tallied another goal. In 10 games since being acquired by Carolina on Jan. 17 in exchange for Victor Rask, the Chur, Switzerland native has scored six goals — three less than his 46-game total with Minnesota before the trade.
Let’s try reading that once more just to make sure it sinks in.
Six goals in 10 games.
Now to think Niederreiter will keep up that pace for an extended period of time is ridiculous. Players typically do not hold steady at 0.6 goals per game, so unless Niederreiter is about to become a 50-goal scorer, he will cool off at some point.
While Niederreiter will certainly come back down to earth at some point, this hot start with Carolina is certainly worth taking a closer look at to determine what exactly is going so well for him out in Raleigh.
Immediately upon his arrival in Carolina, Niederreiter was vaulted right up into the Hurricanes’ top six and now has a spot on their top line. In his first game, he played 16:57 and has since gone on to average a career-best 18:17 in TOI per game since the trade. With Minnesota this season, Niederreiter was only averaging 14:37 of ice time as he primarily featured in Bruce Boudreau‘s bottom six.
The minutes increase for Niederreiter has primarily come at even strength. With Minnesota, Niederreiter was averaging just 12:32 of TOI at even strength. Now with Carolina, he’s averaging 15:39 — which was more than his total TOI average with Minnesota this season — at even strength.
Power play time has slightly gone up for Niederreiter — 2:32 ATOI with Carolina as opposed to 2:04 ATOI with Minnesota — but the bulk of his extra ice time has come at 5-on-5.
Niederreiter has primarily played on Carolina’s top line alongside Sebastian Aho — Carolina’s leading scorer with 63 points — and Justin Williams as the line has definitely become an analytics monster.
After getting a vote of confidence from Canes head coach Rod Brind’Amour, Nino has rewarded the coach with great production in his short time with the team.
Nino Niederreiter is second in TOI among all Canes forwards with 6:10 TOI through the first. (Williams has 6:19)…asked Brind'Amour in VAN what it means to him that 21 took his vote of confidence & ran with it. He paused and said "Really, I should put him out there more…"
— Sara Civ (@SaraCivian) February 2, 2019
Being the analytics darling he is, Niederreiter has fit in just fine with Carolina — a team that has been something of an analytics darling themselves the past few seasons. As mentioned earlier, Niederreiter has meshed together well on a line with Aho and Williams. The line currently holds an expected goals for of eight — which would be second best on Minnesota — already in their short time together.
Niederreiter himself has already done better — if you can believe that — with his puck possession stats. His Corsi For of 63.24 percent is best on the team with a minimum of 100 minutes at 5-on-5. Basically what that means is when Niederreiter is on the ice, the Canes are out attempting the opposition at nearly a 2-to-1 rate.
If you look at Sean Tierney’s shot charts for Niederreiter on both Minnesota and Carolina, you will see that there is not much change in where the winger is getting his shots from.
He is getting them mainly in a premium area.
So why are pucks going in for him now as opposed to in Minnesota when he could not find a goal to save his hide? Well, if you watch the film, he appears to be getting some more favorable bounces.
There were a couple of favorable bounces in there, but the point is that Niederreiter has been able to score due to being in a great position — mainly directly out front of the net — in each of those instances. While he was also getting shots from the same area with Minnesota, him being on a line with more skilled playmakers has no doubt helped his ability to get the puck in the net with Carolina.
While Wild fans suffer indigestion at the site of Niederreiter’s great production with his new club, matters get even worse when they remember that Rask was the player — the only player — Minnesota got back in return from the Hurricanes.
Victor Rask shootout attempt dot gif pic.twitter.com/EodnQomU9m
— Giles Ferrell (@gilesferrell) February 6, 2019
Rask has been up and down the Wild lineup, but he recently had a stop on Minnesota’s fourth line — in the absence of Mikko Koivu, mind you — as he was jumped in the depth chart by Joel Eriksson Ek, who had been recalled from Iowa.
When Paul Fenton brought in Rask the general manager noted that he hoped to spark his offense by giving him this fresh start. While Rask has only appeared in nine games with the Wild, he just has a pair of points to his name while the stagnant Wild offense continues to flounder.
It is likely that Niederreiter does not go on this extended run of scoring had he remained on the Wild. Even at the time of the trade though, he did offer more productivity than Rask despite the struggles he was having this season. For a team that now is really struggling to score, will this trade go down as one of the more regrettable ones in team history?
Only time will tell, but at this point, it sure does look like it.