Nino Niederreiter delivered one of the most iconic scenes in Wild history, outstretching his arms for a mob of teammates to crash into after his overtime goal in Game 7 against the Colorado Avalanche in 2014 ushered the team into the second round of the playoffs.
He will also be remembered as the first core piece subtracted during General Manager Paul Fenton’s tenure.
The Wild continued with a second-half retool Thursday, ending a six-season partnership with Niederreiter by shipping the 26-year-old to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for center Victor Rask. It was the second deal in as many days; the team acquired winger Pontus Aberg from the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday and moved out minor leaguer Justin Kloos.
“It’s definitely a new chapter in my life and looking forward to it,” Niederreiter said.
Ever since Fenton took over the controls last May, he has been evaluating the roster and gauging the interest in Wild players in the trade market.
What he was looking for was a scorer who would fit in with the Wild’s style of play as a consistent, two-way presence.
On the heels of adding the speedy Aberg, who recorded 11 goals with Anaheim, Fenton brought in Rask, whom Fenton had kept tabs on since Rask was drafted in the second round, 42nd overall, in 2011.
“He’s a guy that in my mind needed a change of scenery,” Fenton said.
After seasons of 21, 16 and 14 goals, Rask has only one this season to go along with five assists. He has played only 26 games, missing a chunk of time after undergoing surgery to fix two fingers that were sliced by a knife during a kitchen accident.
In 339 career games, he has 63 goals and 163 points. Rask has three seasons remaining on a six-year, $24 million contract, the same term that’s left on Niederreiter’s five-year, $26.25 million deal, a swap that creates $1.25 million in cap space.
Fenton believes Rask, a left shot, has potential to be a second- or third-line center, and the Sweden native can also shift to wing.
And those attributes were appealing enough to cut ties with Niederreiter, who Fenton explained could have been part of the team’s long-term plan.
“The way I look at it is Victor Rask is a little bit younger, and he’s a center-ice man,” Fenton said. “For me, center ice is a big quality that we’re looking for. He’s got an upside to him. He’s 25 years old. He’s got years on his contract, which are reasonable. If he comes in and he scores and takes that next step, then it really looks like a good trade.”
That Niederreiter was the first major cog to go wasn’t surprising.
There had been trade rumors since the summer, speculation he was aware of, so while the deal sparked mixed feelings, he also wasn’t exactly caught off-guard.
“The GM is going to make it his team, and to make it his team, he’s going to move some parts around eventually,” Niederreiter said. “Now he knows what he has in the locker room, and he knew what he wanted to change, and he knows what horse he wants to ride with. And I wasn’t one of them.”
Just before he settled in for a pregame nap, Niederreiter learned of the deal; his radar went off once he saw Fenton’s name pop up on his caller ID.
While the friendships he made with teammates will dominate the highlight reel of his time in Minnesota, this was also where the native of Switzerland established himself as a regular NHLer.
Traded from the New York Islanders in 2013 after getting drafted fifth overall in 2010, Niederreiter racked up 110 goals and 228 points in 434 regular-season games with the Wild — tying for the fifth-most goals in franchise history.
A fan favorite, Niederreiter said his overtime clincher in his first season was “definitely a career-changer” and it previewed of a productive run, as he eclipsed the 20-goal plateau the next three campaigns.
But his streakiness eventually became more pronounced.
His first tally in 2018-19, in Game 15, ended a 27-game drought. He had a 12-game drought before scoring two goals in his final three games with Minnesota. He sat at nine goals with 23 points — unevenness that also make him primed to capitalize on a fresh start.
“I had a chance to play in front of the great State of Hockey for five years after that,” Niederreiter said, referring to his playoff thriller that sealed the Wild’s first series victory in 11 years. “Those are memories you’ll definitely never forget. But at the end of the day, I just want to win the Stanley Cup and we haven’t had a chance to do that here. I hope I’m going to reach that goal someday.”