Editor’s Note: We would normally wait until the season has concluded until doing our “About Last Season” series to review each Hurricanes player’s previous year’s performance. However, with so much uncertainty about the timeline ahead, and how much time there might be between the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and 2020-21 season, we’ve decided to go ahead and start them now, and just review the concluded regular season. These will run each weekday up through the end of July, and will also serve as a primer for where each player stands heading into the qualifying round.
Nino Niederreiter: 2019-20 By the Numbers
- Age: 27
- NHL Seasons: 9
- Games Played: 67
- Scoring: 11 goals, 18 assists, 29 points
- Average Ice Time: 12:55 ES, 1:55 PP, 0:02 SH
- 5-on-5 (score/venue adjusted): 57.1 CF% (3.6 relative), 48.4 GF%, 53.4 xGF%
- Contract Status: Two years left at $5.25 million AAV
Nino Niederreiter is an interesting case. He was an underperforming power forward on a team that was carried by a few high-earners. In fact, his stats were nearly identical between each season in a Hurricanes sweater and he actually had one more point in 2018-19 than this previous season in nearly half the amount of games.
While Niederreiter made an immediate, positive impact on Carolina’s top line last year after he was traded one-for-one for Victor Rask, he failed to gain traction with any line this past season.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Niederreiter was given plenty of time paired on the first line with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, spending 316:16 of his 832 total 5-on-5 minutes alongside them.
Due to his surplus of ice-time, one would have expected his production rate to have increased with that time, but that wasn’t the case.
Neiderreiter only registered seven points with the Finnish first line and data from Charting Hockey shows that over the season, Niederreiter had a higher Goals Against Percentage (2.09) than Goals For Percentage (2.308), meaning that he was on the ice for more opposition goals than he had helped produce.
Charting Hockey’s “Production Rate” chart also labelled Niederreiter as the Canes’ worst forward producer based on his ice time with only 1.082 points per 60.
Niederreiter finished the regular season with 11 goals and 29 points in 67 games. This was his lowest points-per-game average in his career besides his first two seasons playing with the New York Islanders.
One of the biggest reasons for Niederreiter’s underwhelming season could be from his lower shooting percentage. Neiderreiter shot his lowest percentage since 2011-12 with only 9.6% of his shots finding the back of the net, down nearly 4% from his last years percentage with just the Canes.
The season’s league average for shooting percentage was 9.5%, but that takes into account all players, including fourth liners and defensemen who traditionally put up lower value shots.
Niederreiter’s 9.6% shooting percentage placed him ninth in team rank which was also the same as his scoring rank. While Niederreiter was underwhelming in terms of production, he wasn’t the only one. Only two Canes skaters managed to eclipse 20 goals (Aho and Andrei Svechnikov), and past that, only four managed to reach 40 points.
In addition, two other top-six skaters had a lower shooting percentage than even Niederreiter (Teravainen and Vincent Trocheck).
Neiderreiter had his best month in December, where he notched only two goals, but put on a playmaker mask with eight assists. His best scoring month was February, where he registered four goals.
Niederreiter was at his most effective deep in the offensive zone. Nine of his eleven goals and half his assists came from below the circles. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Hurricanes were credited for 217 high-danger chances while Niedereitter was on the ice.
Charting Hockey also had data that showed Niederrieter had a higher expected goal differential of +0.482. Looking at the quality chances that Niederreiter was getting, it seemed almost like bad luck that he couldn’t catch a break throughout the season. Charting Hockey labelled Niederreiter in its “unlucky” category based on expected goal differential vs on-ice goal differential at 5-on-5.
Niederreiter found a bit of chemistry this season alongside rookie Martin Necas, especially on the second power play unit. The pair combined for nearly a third of Neiderreiter’s total points and put together quite a dominant pair. Both were able to utilize their strength to create separation and while Necas uses his speed and size, Niederreiter utilizes his tenacity and awareness.
Something that can’t quite be tracked is the role Niederreiter plays with the team. Typically the last one to change, he is the player that prevents opposing defenses from easily moving the puck out of the zone, hounding back and forth between carriers.
Neiderreiter is also usually the one taking the beating, whether along the boards or in front of the net, winning battles and space for teammates. There are intangibles that Niederreiter brings and contributes to the team that are evident by his play style and presence in the room, but at the end of the day he is expected to be a goal scorer.
Currently, Niederreiter carries the sixth largest cap-hit on the team, making $5.25 million for the next two years. The most important comparison for that contract is to Rask, who was traded for Niederreiter. Rask had five goals and 13 points this season while carrying a cap-hit of $4 million AAV for the next two years. While making over a million more, Neiderrieter still had double the production of Rask and wasn’t anywhere near the liability that Rask was for the Minnesota Wild.
When you look at Niederreiter’s season, many may opt to call this year an outlier but certain data sets may be finding Niederreiter in a decline. According to Evolving-Hockey charts, Niederreiter’s SPAR (Standing Points Above Replacement) trend has steadily decreased ever since peaking in the 2016-17 season.
What that means is that the team currently earns more points in the standings with him than without, but the trend is moving towards net neutral. Even after Niederreiter had a slight increase in production after his trade to Carolina, the trend had since reverted back to its original path.
Niederreiter is a textbook power forward. He is aggressive on the puck, goes to the net, is physical and can take hits. However, the Canes have had a long history of frustration with power forwards who can do everything but score and it seems Niederreiter is falling into that trend.
Niederreiter was also a contributor to the Hurricanes penalty woes, having been guilty of 21, the third most on the team, due to his aggressive nature, while only drawing 16 penalties against opponents. It’s a differential of five, but of those, 11 were avoidable offensive zone penalties.
With playoff, err… “play-in” rounds coming up, the question is whether or not Niederreiter will help make an impact. Historically, Neiderreiter has had minimal playoff numbers, other than that one goal during his tenure with the Wild.
Despite that, Neierreiter’s style of play may be more the beneficiary of playoff hockey. A lot of the playoffs come down to goaltending and depth scoring, but another huge aspect is aggressive forechecking and physicality. Neiderreiter brings both to the table and can wear on opponents, a huge boost in the playoffs.
We can all agree that Niederreiter had a less than optimal season this year, but the question stands as whether or not the trend will continue. As it sits, Niederreiter is still a player with more positives than negatives, but at a $5.25 million price tag for two more seasons with large contracts such as Svechnikov and Dougie Hamilton still looming, the Canes can’t afford to have another fruitless power forward.
In my opinion, he is worth holding onto. Neiderreiter can be a difference maker and he was showing promise alongside Necas and maybe more time with Trocheck can help get him back on a steady track. Maybe this season was just a case of bad luck for Neiderreiter, but there are trends to stay aware of.
Regardless of factors and how it may look next season, this year was not a good one for Niederreiter, but overall, he was not a detrimental aspect to the team.
How would you grade Nino Niederreiter’s 2019-20 regular season?
This poll is closed
A - Outstanding Performance
B - Above Average Performance
C - Average Performance
D - Below Average Performance
F - Significantly Below Average Performance