Okay, so it isn’t so much an epic as it is a slight rant regarding this player right here.
I admit in advance: I am biased. I enjoy watching Nino play. I love Swiss players. Plus, I think he has a lot of potential and his seasons played in Portland reflect as much. His ten-point performance throughout the 2010 World Juniors was also impressive. But compare those sparkling stats to the ones he has in his first 47 games played in his actual rookie season in the National Hockey League, and you’ll see a very different side of the story.
So what’s the explanation?
A mix of things. First of all, Nino’s spent much of his season on the fourth line. The stalwarts there? Marty Reasoner and Jay Pandolfo, who have one goal, seven points, and -32 between them. Both are admittedly good on the penalty kill, but other than that, they have very little usefulness as far as offense goes. While Nino was noted for his two-way play and good ice coverage, he was much more touted for his offensive ability, something he can’t showcase with two defensive-minded players. (Last game, against Montreal, Pandolfo was not in the lineup; Matt Martin was the opposite winger on the fourth line, and Nino seemed to have better offensive opportunities.)
Another problem is his overall TOI. Last night he received a whopping 8:44. The last couple of games he was in double digits (around 11-12 minutes each), and only twice has he ever hit 15 minutes. More often, you’ll see him under fifteen minutes, and too many times (in my opinion) you see Nino with seven, eight or nine minutes throughout the game. There isn’t much consistency to the numbers at all. Some may argue that limited ice time means you have to fight for more, but how much can Nino possibly do with the aforementioned linemates that he has? He needs a strong center, and that’s something he doesn’t have right now. (Granted, should Ryan Strome be ready for the NHL in the near-future, that could be a very good potential tandem- after all, the two of them had some great chemistry during scrimmages in training camp.)
I spoke about my frustration with how the Isles have been handling Nino earlier today with a friend, and she mentioned an interesting agreement between the NHL and the Canadian Hockey League (CHL, which the WHL is a part of, and that’s where Nino was drafted from). Basically, any under-20 hockey player who doesn’t turn 20 by Dec. 31 of the given year is not eligible to play in the minors, meaning if the NHL team were to assign him elsewhere, it would have to be back to his junior team. This is in place to protect the CHL’s talent pool, basically, and there has been some debate as to whether it should be annulled or not.
My thoughts? It might have been better if Nino had gone back to Portland for the rest of the season. The situation on Long Island isn’t a good one for him right now, and if he isn’t going to get the same opportunities here that he would in the W, then why waste a year of his entry-level contract giving him crap minutes on a crap line? Better to let him hone his game in the juniors- and not only that, but it could give him a confidence boost, also. After all, he’s only 19. It wouldn’t have hurt anyone to let him close out the season down there.
Then again, it’s a bit too late now. We’re only three short weeks from the end of the regular season, and it isn’t one that’s gone well for the Islanders. Perhaps the off-season will bring some much-needed roster changes, which will free up some space for Nino to actually move within the roster, or at the very least get some better-suited linemates.