Saturday, October 9, 2010

Today, It's All About Nino

The game: Today at 4 pm Pacific time, Portland Winterhawk Nino Niederreiter will make his official NHL debut with the New York Islanders. He has signed an entry level contract, which won't kick in until he plays 9 games. He has not yet been assured a permanent place on their roster, but he did well enough in camp to earn an opening night spot.

Why I chose it: DUH. Nino was drafted 5th in the 2010 Entry Draft, right after team and linemate Ryan Johansen, who went 4th to Columbus. Nino is the only of our 10 draftees who is still with his NHL team. By being chosen in that prime spot, he became the highest drafted Swiss player in the League's history. And even though this is about all him, let's not forget that by being picked 4th, Ryan (according to sent every mock draft out there crashing in flames. I met Ryan about five months before the draft, and I still don't think he any idea back then how loud his frequency was about to get. While the draft clearly instilled confidence in all of Portland's draftees, we are proud to say none of them have allowed it to go to their heads.

And if you are out there in New York preparing for game day, just a note for y'all. oregonlive readers have seen me do this before, in the form of a mock letter to the Islanders asking for Nino's return to us. But since the Islanders have decided to keep him for now....New York fans, this one's for you. And Portland fans, yes on occasion I do warm and fuzzy. For Nino, I'm sure you'll agree the exception is worth it.

Dear New York Islanders Fans,

I hope you will enjoy tonight's game, notably because you will have the pleasure of watching Nino Niederreiter make his professional NHL debut. Even if he only plays for one period or a few minutes, you'll see what I mean. There is nothing like our Nino and we expect that you will welcome him just the same as Portland did this time last year.

For a whole, magical season, Portland had the privilege of watching while Nino's star got brighter with every game. The only thing louder than the Staples Center on draft day was a bar in downtown Portland where we watched while the NHL had the good sense to snatch up two of our best players. Tonight, you will be treated to what I know will be a stunning debut by one of them. I hope that you will show Nino the same love, respect and care that we have, tonight and always.

While we still hold out hope that you will return him to us, if you must keep him, do take great care with our gift to you. He is only 18 after all, and his primary experience in the United States was a big-but-not-too-big city in the Pacific Northwest. He doesn't know yet what a New York minute is, or that when they say "the city that never sleeps" they mean it. I hope you will show him the very best of your city and the very best of yourselves.

The very best and most exciting thing about Nino and all of Portland's draftees is that the best is yet to come. You have the privilege of being the home of his future. Take great care with our prize, New York. There is only one Nino and his NHL debut only comes once. Self-respecting hockey fans in Portland will be watching from afar on couches, in bars, or online. But New York, the honor of making Nino's debut everything he dreamed about falls to you. I ask only that you show him what it's like to dream while he's awake.

Yours truly,


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