Niederreiter arrives as Jets struggle to stay in the playoff picture
WINNIPEG — Nino Niederreiter was heading back to a hotel after a practice with the Nashville Predators on Saturday when he got called to the front of the team bus.
The veteran forward was given the news he’d been traded to the Winnipeg Jets.
"Telling all the boys on the bus that you get traded was definitely an emotional part, but I'm definitely very excited to be here now," Niederreiter said Monday after his first practice with the Jets.
Winnipeg traded a second-round pick in the 2024 NHL draft to obtain the six-foot-two, 218-pound winger, who still has a year left on his contract that pays him US$4 million per season.
His acquisition comes at a time when the Jets are struggling and trying to stay in the playoff picture.
Winnipeg (35-24-1) has lost three consecutive games and tumbled from second place in the Central Division to a wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
They’ve gone 1-5-0 in their past six games, including a 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Friday and a 4-0 defeat to the New York Islanders Sunday that drew Bronx cheers from fans at Canada Life Centre.
Niederreiter and his new teammates were put through an intense practice Monday, with head coach Rick Bowness barking instructions such as “move the puck, move quicker.”
The newcomer was slotted on a line with centre Pierre-Luc Dubois and Nikolaj Ehlers, but Dubois left practice early.
Bowness said afterward Dubois has a nagging lower-body injury and will be a game-time decision when Winnipeg hosts the Los Angeles Kings Tuesday. Forward Mason Appleton is “very doubtful” to play.
Niederreiter, 30, has a skill set that includes elements the Jets have been lacking lately and he wants to help them.
"I feel like my tenaciousness on the forecheck and in front of the net, getting those, hopefully, greasy goals and getting in the guy’s face in front of the net and all those crumbs," he said. "I think that's my bread and butter and that's where I try to be there most."
The Switzerland product had 18 goals and 10 assists in 56 games with the Predators this season. He’s also taken 130 shots. Bowness has stressed the Jets need to shoot more.
It’s the third time Niederreiter has been traded since entering the league in 2010 with the Islanders. New York sent him to Minnesota in June 2013, and the Wild traded him to the Carolina Hurricanes in January 2019. He signed as a free agent with Nashville last summer.
That's meant a lot of games against the Jets in the Central Division.
Connor Hellebuyck is aware of what Niederreiter can bring and welcomes his addition.
"I know he’s got a good shot," Hellebuyck said. “He’s a big player and he plays hard so those are all key attributes to have.
"It’s huge to have a guy like him. He’s going to work hard, he’s going to push the pace and he’s going to help us. Any time your group can have a chance to improve, I think you cherish it."
Ehlers echoed the praise of Niederreiter’s battling style, plus the message his trade sends to the team.
"I think everyone in here has the feeling we can do something special this year," Ehlers said. "And going to get a guy like him only solidifies that."
Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff may not have finished boosting the roster before Friday’s trade deadline. Prior to the Niederreiter trade, it was believed the club would look to upgrade its top-six forward group and bolster the defence.
Bowness is focused on the here and now and getting the current group back on track. That started with Monday’s up-tempo practice.
"We got to hold them more accountable like we did (Monday) morning," Bowness said. "Just as important is that they have to hold each other accountable."
He wants to see the players rise to the challenges the coaching staff is giving them.
"Trust me, we’re going to keep pushing. We’re not backing off from our end," Bowness said. "They better get used to it. There’s no chance we’re backing off. Certainly not at this time of the year."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2023.
Judy Owen, The Canadian Press