Always a thrill seeker, Wild forward Nino Niederreiter is usually good for a few daredevilish things during his offseasons.
One of Switzerland’s best NHLers, Niederreiter actually strapped himself to the upper wing of a 1940s open-cockpit Boeing Stearman biplane a couple summers ago to fly over the Alps.
This summer, Niederreiter did something safer — salmon fishing in Alaska.
“With the contract situation, I tried to stay on the ground and not do anything, uh, stupid,” Niederreiter joked.
Finally though, Niederreiter’s nerve-racking summer of “thinking” ended Sunday night when he agreed to a five-year, $26.25 million contract with the Wild. Niederreiter was glad to avoid the often contentious process of salary arbitration.
“You never want to go to Toronto and make a deal there,” Niederreiter said Monday.
Now, after a career year in which he scored 25 goals and 57 points, Niederreiter has loftier expectations.
“I definitely haven’t had my best season yet,” Niederreiter said. “Even last year, I don’t think everything went perfectly smooth. There’s always been stretches during the season where I don’t find the score sheet, and that’s definitely something which I want to improve. My big goal is to get 30 in this league.”
For that to happen, he probably needs increased ice time. Niederreiter’s average ice time of 15 minutes, 4 seconds ranked eighth among Wild forwards last season. He ranked 15th in the NHL in 5-on-5 points per 60 minutes among skaters (teammate Jason Zucker ranked 11th).
Asked if he’s ready for more ice time, Niederreiter said, “I feel like I was ready last year. As a player, you feel like you’re always ready to play more and get more ice time. But at the end of the day, that’s the coach’s job and I can only control what I can control.
“That’s something which I learned early on in my career that too much thinking is not going to do anything good. I’ve got to do the best I can with the ice time I get. I’m going to prepare myself to get more minutes this year, and if that’s the case, then great. And if not, I’ll just do whatever I can to be great in the minutes I get.”
Not only did Niederreiter establish career highs in virtually every category last season, he led the Wild in Corsi For percentage (possession) and Scoring Chances For percentage. According to NaturalStattrick.com, Niederreiter ranked fifth among NHL forwards in the last category in large part because he ranked second among NHL forwards in scoring chances against per 60 minutes.
Niederreiter, who will turn 25 on Sept. 8, feels one of his strengths is, “I can play with anyone. I feel like I’m an easy player to play with.”
The numbers certainly show Niederreiter drives puck possession. According to Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, Eric Staal had a Corsi For percentage of .548 with Niederreiter on the ice and .483 without him. Charlie Coyle had a .547 Corsi For percentage with Niederreiter, .471 without him. Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella were all .527 or better with Niederreiter on the ice, all below 50 percent without him.
“I’m trying to get better and better,” Niederreiter sad. “Now is the goal to get even better … and help the team win something special.”
• The Wild signed Edina native Jack Walker, a forward, to an American Hockey League contract with Iowa. Walker, an unsigned Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick, scored 67 goals and 156 points his past two seasons with Victoria of the Western Hockey League.
• The Wild will have 12 games televised this upcoming season on NBC Sports Network.