Lockout or not, Nino Niederreiter's first games this season were most likely going to be with Bridgeport. The 20-year-old winger had one of the uglier rookie seasons in recent NHL history, with one goal, no assists and a minus-29 rating in 55 games, most of them spent as a fourth-line wing.
So the feeling in the Islanders organization was, unless Niederreiter had a tremendous training camp, he was ticketed to start the season in the AHL to build up some confidence.
Niederreiter doesn't see it that way.
"I didn't even think a little bit about the AHL this summer," Niederreiter said on Monday, following the Sound Tigers' second full practice at IceWorks in Syosset. "I was prepaing to do everything I could to be a part of the NHL team, and that's what I did. When this lockout is over, I'm going to prove I belong with the Islanders."
Niederreiter said he "lost track" during his rookie year, trying too hard to fit a fourth-liner's role rather than use the skill that got him drafted fifth overall in 2010.
"I didn't know exactly what kind of player I should be," he said. "I tried to be a grinder instead of being the skill player I always was."
That sort of talk may not sit so well with Jack Capuano, who kept Niederreiter on the fourth line to get the rookie to learn the two-way game. But with time in Bridgeport now, the hope is Niederreiter will regain the hard edge and scoring touch that both left him during his lost season.