When asked by a Swiss reporter today if he had any reservations about keeping an 18-year-old on the team, Islanders coach Scott Gordon cracked: "Not really. I try to make it a yearly thing."
Gordon is of course referencing the previous two years when first-round draft picks Josh Bailey and John Tavares remained with the team for the entire season. While Tavares' roster spot was essentially a "foregone conclusion" Gordon said, Bailey's place on the team was predicated by injuries and circumstances.
While both Bailey and Tavares were both pivotal in the team's rebuilding stage, Niederreiter is fighting for a spot on a team with a narrower window of opportunity.
"Realistically, we're trying to move past that rebuilding mode to move on to where the playoffs are realistic," Gordon said.
And although Niederreiter's physical maturity will give him an initial leg up, he must take learn to take advantage of that size.
"He's got to know how to use it," Gordon said. "Now these guys are stronger and skating hard at him, if he's not pushing back against them he's going to get hurt."
Michael Grabner skated as an extra forward on a line with Josh Bailey, Doug Weight and Niederreiter today.
He'll sit the first two games to get acclimated to the Islanders' system, but Gordon seems intent on giving him a prime opportunity with his speed and skill.
"He's ahead of everyone we have in Bridgeport, and some guys here," he said. "He's been a pro, he's been coached well and that part will make the transition easier. But in fairness to him, we're going to give him a chance to hear us as coaches, get to know his teammates, the system and settle into New York."
Grabner said today that he can play either left or right wing and is comfortable with both. He played left wing for three years in junior, right wing in Manitoba, and both wings while in Vancouver last season.
Enforcer Trevor Gillies was happy to make the cut yesterday, but said he's well aware that his spot hasn't been solidified.
"There are no guarantees," he said. "The foot is not coming off the pedal, if anything I'm pushing it down even further.
Gillies was on the ice half an hour early working on his skating with consultant Bernie Cassell before the team's practice at IceWorks today.
"I'd like to think I'm a good team guy," Gillies said. "I work hard and I fit in pretty well here. I look at all these guys here like brothers and I'd do anything for any of 'em."
Niederreiter's parents are flying in from Switzerland tomorrow to catch their son's NHL debut.