McKeen's correspondent Randy Gorman was able to interview Portland Winterhawks forward Nino Niederreiter just prior to the end of the WHL season. The young Swiss standout is projected to go early in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and is currently ranked No. 10 overall by McKeen's.
McKeen's: Where did you play your minor hockey before joining the Portland Winter Hawks?
Niederreiter: I played for H.C. Davos club in the Swiss minor hockey league previously before coming to North America.
McKeen's: What do you feel the major difference is in the style of play from your club team in Switzerland to playing in North America and major junior hockey here in Portland?
Niederreiter: The biggest difference is the ice size, with it being smaller than in Europe. The game is faster and you have to make decisions in a timely fashion or someone is on top of you with the forecheck. Also, in Switzerland the schedule might see you play three games in a week, compare that with here, where as in the WHL you might play three games in three nights a lot of the time and say, you might play five games in total in a given week.
McKeen's: Playing on a team with so many gifted and skilled players that are being scouted like yourself do you feel any extra pressure to excel and succeed?
Niederreiter: I relish the opportunity to showcase my talent to the scouts and I want to show that I'm a leader for other players. Particularly, I want to take up that challenge in the postseason.
McKeen's: Can you describe your World Junior experience and your performance there in regards to what the Swiss team was able to accomplish there?
Niederreiter: I think we as a team played very well and learned to play as a team. We played through injuries and adversity, and I thought we showed that by our win over Russia that we could play on the world stage. A lot of our players stepped up and proved that we could compete at this elite level.
McKeen's: Have you any set goals or accomplishments that you wanted to achieve this season?
Niederreiter: We just want to go out and win as many games as we can and work together to meet those objectives. As for me, I want to work on my defense and be able to play a two-way game.
McKeen's: Would you consider skating to be your biggest strength of your game?
Niederreiter: I want to be even faster, I'm not satisfied with my first three steps, I would like to improve on that and I'm working with the coaching staff to do just that. I have to shoot the puck more instead of trying to force too many passes through clogged up passing lanes. As I mentioned, I want to be better defensively, but yes, I would agree that skating is my strength.
McKeen's: Is it exciting playing with fellow draft prospects Ryan Johansen, and Brad Ross, you seem to be working well together?
Niederreiter: We take pride in working as a well-oiled unit, each one of us fulfills a role and that's what makes us one of the most successful lines in the WHL and we communicate well together.
McKeen's: Who's had the greatest influence or impact in your career so far?
Niederreiter: My family of course, but Mike Johnston has changed my game from a European style to the North American game. He wants me to shoot more rather than passing in certain situations where taking the shot is a better option. I can't say enough about all the help he has given me.
McKeen's: You mentioned wanting to work on the defensive part of the game, how has coach Johnston helped you learn defense?
Niederreiter: He has showed me that I must stay with my opposite check and be patient and not take unnecessary penalties. Also, to use my speed to help the defense with coverage in our own zone. Body position also plays a big part and I learned how to best counter act opposing players.
McKeen's: You are considered an exciting player that is creative with the puck, is that an accurate description of your play with the puck?
Niederreiter: I try my best every time to challenge opposing players to try and stop me as I utilize my speed and agility. If I can open up space and ice for my teammates than all the better to help my team get more scoring chances and ultimately, help us win.
McKeen's: What do you like to do away from the game in the off-season?
Niederreiter: I like to golf, go bowling, and maybe a trip to the mall now and again to go shopping.