Canes forward Nino Niederreiter is playing with extra motivation this season. Here’s why

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When people talk about the Carolina Hurricanes, many bring up the power of Andrei Svechnikov, the craftiness of Teuvo Teravainen, the determination of Sebastian Aho, classy play of Jaccob Slavin, speed of Martin Necas and the leadership of the captain, Jordan Staal.

Talk contract and it usually centers on Svechnikov’s eight-year, $62 million extension, or what Necas could earn after this season. Or the offer sheet contract for Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Or what the New Jersey Devils gave Dougie Hamilton to lure he defenseman away from Carolina after last season.

Overlooked, it seems, is Nino Niederreiter.

Niederreiter, 29, is in the final year of a contract and due to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2021-22 season. He, too, has a lot of play for, financially and professionally, as the veteran forward seeks a first Stanley Cup championship.

The Canes opened a new season Thursday with what amounted to a team flex, scoring a 6-3 victory over the New York Islanders at PNC Arena. It was a team win in every sense as 12 players had points and everyone in a Canes sweater contributed.

“Everybody was energized,” Niederreiter said after the game.

Svechnikov, called dominant by Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour, had two goals and an assist in being named the game’s first star. Teravainen had a goal and assist and defenseman Tony DeAngelo, in his first game with the Canes, had two assists.

Niederreiter’s contribution: a goal, five of the Canes’ 41 shots and four hits. He scored on a power move in the second period despite having a 250-pound backpack, Isles defender Zdeno Chara, hooking and pushing him from behind.

“He’s a big man and it took everything I can to get to the net,” Niederreiter said, grinning.

Niederreiter’s goal at 11:28 of the second was reviewed and then, after being awarded, challenged by Isles coach Barry Trotz for goaltender interference. But the goal counted, the Canes led 4-2 and Neiderreiter in the end had the game winner.

Neiderreiter’s line, centered by Staal, had a pair of goals as the Canes displayed their offensive balance. Winger Jesper Fast redirected a shot by Slavin to score in the first with Niederreiter screening goalie Ilya Sorokin.

Carolina Hurricanes’ Nino Niederreiter (21) controls the puck ahead of New York Islanders’ Anthony Beauvillier (18) in the third period on Thursday, October 14, 2021 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.
Carolina Hurricanes’ Nino Niederreiter (21) controls the puck ahead of New York Islanders’ Anthony Beauvillier (18) in the third period on Thursday, October 14, 2021 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.

Trotz said after the game that the Canes like to fire shots from every angle and funnel everything to the net, saying, “They cause a lot of havoc.”

That’s where you’ll usually find Niederreiter, staked out around the net. He’s strong at 6-2 and 218 pounds and knows how to best use his man muscle.

Havoc, he likes. A likable guy off the ice, quick with a smile, he plays the game with an edge, and No. 21 often is seen in the middle of scrums.

Niederreiter led the Canes with 16 even-strength goals last season and many came from getting to what Trotz called the “loose change” around the crease. His 20 goals in 56 games ranked second on the team behind Aho’s 24.

Niederreiter’s trade to the Hurricanes for forward Victor Rask came Jan. 17, 2019, after he fell out of favor with then-Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. He helped end Carolina’s long playoff drought that season but said he did not like the way he played in the 2019-20 season that was disrupted by COVID-19.

When the 2020-21 season cranked up in January 2021, Niederreiter was ready, his offseason training apparent. The Swiss-born player, who has hopes of competing in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, had a solid training camp leading up to Thursday’s opener for a new season.

Niederreiter’s contract, signed with the Wild, has paid him an average of $5.25 million a year. The Canes have young, skilled forwards such as Seth Jarvis and Jack Drury waiting to play. A decision -- re-sign Niederreiter or let him leave -- will come after the season.

“Being in the last year of your deal is always a little tricky,” Niederreiter said during training camp. “You think a lot of different things. It stays in the background. At the end of the day you have to focus on yourself and do the little things right and go from there.”

Next game

Who: Carolina Hurricanes at Nashville Predators

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville.

TV/radio: Bally Sports South, WMCM-99.9 FM.

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