2010 first-round draft pick Nino Niederreiter takes a shot on...

2010 first-round draft pick Nino Niederreiter takes a shot on goal during Islanders prospect camp at Nassau Coliseum. (July 7, 2010) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The scene was strangely similar to that of a year ago: Nino Niederreiter engulfed by reporters near his locker room stall, fielding questions about his potential, his progress and his readiness to crack the Islanders' roster.

But circumstances have changed during the past 12 months.

After being selected fifth overall in the 2010 draft, Niederreiter quickly learned to deal with the pressure and scrutiny hoisted on any high pick attending his first mini-camp. His chippy style of play and NHL-caliber shot earned him a short stint with the team.

When the Islanders ultimately decided to send the 18-year-old Swiss winger back to his junior team after nine games, he accepted the decision graciously and thanked the team for the opportunity.

Heading back to the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks was difficult, but ultimately, a blessing.

"Those nine games -- it was a great experience -- but going back allowed me to go to Portland, become more of a leader and help younger guys on our team," Niederreiter told Newsday during Islanders mini-camp Wednesday. "That really helped my own development."

After another standout season in the WHL (41 goals, 29 assists in 55 games) and return trip to the World Junior Hockey Championships (he served as captain for the Swiss team), Niederreiter now feels better equipped to crack the lineup this year.

"Last year was the first time I really played against men; now I know what to expect," he said. "I probably would've been fine last year physically, but mentally I wasn't perfectly prepared. Now I feel much stronger mentally."

Wednesday's on-ice sessions were short, but coach Jack Capuano said Niederreiter's confidence level was easy to see. He expects the power forward to be a major factor when finalizing the roster.

"Come September he's going to be one of the guys pushing hard to make the team," Capuano said "He knows his time is now."

With his physicality and offensive ability, Niederreiter will have every opportunity to make the Islanders' team out of camp. Considering the Islanders basement-dwelling payroll, they also could use his $2.795 million cap hit ($900,000 in base salary, and almost $2 million in potential bonuses).

Capuano said he doesn't worry about Niederreiter's "will to compete, his will to be coached," but his ability to adapt to the speed and strength of the NHL game. Capuano wants to see Niederreiter win one-on-one puck battles, use his physicality, and prove he can play with men.

"If he does those things," Capuano said, "he has a great chance."

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