The Carolina Hurricanes made a splash yesterday as they traded a once projected top six center in Victor Rask for scoring winger Nino Niederreiter. Rask’s high water mark was the 2015-16 season in which he tallied 48 points and 21 goals. At that point in his career he was projecting as a a solid two way, second line center in Carolina.
Things obviously didn’t go as planned as he spent most of his time on ice over the past two seasons centering in a bottom six role, and his production suffered as a result. Something that may have played a part in his decline here in Carolina was nagging shoulder injuries that plagued him over the course of multiple seasons. He’s the kind of guy that could benefit well from a change of scenery and the renewed confidence of a fresh start in a different organization that’s desperate for young talent up the middle of the ice.
The Hurricanes obviously made this trade with scoring in mind. And scoring is something that Niederreiter does well. The 6’2’’ Swiss is a consistent 20 goal scoring winger who can jump into the Hurricanes’ top six and immediately provide primary points. His most productive season was 2016-17 in which he tallied 57 points (25g, 32a).
Last year was his least productive offensively since his rookie year, which probably explains why the Wild were looking to move him. It was also his first in four seasons in which he didn’t crest the 20 goal threshold, but that can probably be attributed to the fact that he only played in 68 games.
This season, he’s been playing most often on a productive Mikko Koivu centered line with Zach Parise on the opposing wing. Last season he played most often on Eric Staal’s wing alongside Jason Zucker as a part of what was one of the team’s best possession lines.
Niederreiter’s impact on possession may be his most valuable asset as he adjusts to the Carolina style of play. His 52.94 CF% last season led all skaters on a Minnesota team that generally wasn’t driving puck possession. His shooting percentage has stayed high throughout his career and will be expected to have an impact immediately here in Carolina.
Refreshingly, he also plays a pretty solid and responsible defensive game. His 62.30 GF% led all forwards on the Wild, meaning that his team was scoring significantly more than they were getting scored on while he was on the ice. His offensive zone start percentage of 51.6% last season indicates that he’s trusted in all situations on the ice, and his goaltender’s .938 SV% while he was on the ice last season tells us that his lines are playing an effective two way game.
There’s really not too much to dislike about Niederreiter or this trade other than the fact that the Canes lost a centerman. They ultimately gave up a struggling young center for a proven top 6 goal scorer who has seen a dip in production over the past year. It appears that GM Don Waddell decided that primary scoring was more important to this team than the center depth that Rask offers, especially given Sebastian Aho’s ascension and the eventual addition of Martin Necas. I think he made the right call.