When asked to offer a guess as to who leads the Minnesota Wild in goals right now, or at any point over the last couple seasons, Zach Parise may quickly come to mind. He does lead the team in scoring so far this season with 22 points, but he is runner-up with 10 goals right now. Minnesota’s biggest free agent signing of last offseason, Thomas Vanek, may also come to mind, but fans of the team know he has vastly underachieved with just three goals to this point.
Nino Niederreiter scored his third game-winning goal of the season against the New York Islanders on Tuesday night, as the Wild completed a comeback from a 3-0 first period deficit and won the game 5-4. It was also his team-leading 12th time finding the back of the net this season, and he has more goals by himself than any two of Vanek, Mikko Koivu (five goals) and Jason Pominville (six goals) thus far this season.
Niederreiter is not only out-producing his veteran teammates, outside of Parise of course, but he has also outscored fellow young forwards Mikael Granlund (three goals) and Charlie Coyle (two goals) so far this season. That unexpected performance, particularly when considering the rampant underachievement of the team’s other forwards, makes Niederreiter the Wild’s clear-cut team MVP so far.
The Wild have just 10 power play goals this season, and they have the NHL’s third-worst power play overall (11.5 percent). Minnesota’s power play would be even more inept without Niederreiter’s contribution, as he also has a team-high four goals with the man advantage and only Parise (two) joins him with more than one right now.
If some of his bigger name teammates can re-discover their scoring prowess soon, Niederreiter’s numbers won’t stand out the way they do right now. But the 22-year old has carried his strong play from last postseason (three goals and three assists) right into this season, and he is becoming an important part of the present as well as a future building block for the Wild.