Officially, Portland Pirates center Tobias Rieder is a rookie, but he’s been living the life of a pro hockey player since leaving his native Germany four years ago to play for the Kitchener Rangers in the junior Ontario Hockey League.
“Moving away from home at the age of 17 to live on another continent is not the easiest thing to do,” he said. “I think I got way more mature doing that stuff, moving away from my family at that age, learning a new language, getting to know new people and a new team. I think that helped me out a lot.”
Rieder, who turns 21 in January, has gotten off a terrific start in his first American Hockey League season.
Despite missing seven of the Pirates’ first 10 games this season because of a broken foot, he is among the team’s scoring leaders with four goals in just three games.
“The thing that stands out to me with (Rieder), regardless of the point production, is the detail to his game,” Coach Ray Edwards said. “He’s a very reliable player. You can put him in any situation. Kill penalties. If you’re a goal up in the last minute, he’ll get a puck out. He’ll block a shot. Defensively, he knows where to go. He understands the concepts we’re teaching. He’s a very intelligent player.”
Last March, the parent Phoenix Coyotes obtained the rights to Rieder, selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the fifth round of the 2011 NHL draft, in exchange for forward Kale Kessy, another junior player, and promptly signed him to a three-year entry-level contract.
“I think our expectations were relatively high for him knowing everything we had heard about him before we made the deal,” Edwards said.
“His coaches (in Kitchener) had nothing but high regard for him so you knew you were getting a good player, a good kid, great character.”
Edwards wasn’t surprised that Rieder, who scored two goals in a 4-3 victory against the Worcester Sharks last Sunday afternoon, was able to pick up right where he left in early October after sitting a month because of his injury.
“It’s what you do when you’re out,” Edwards said. “Some guys (mess) around and when they come back they’re behind the 8-ball. (Rieder) went to work. That’s what you do, you do things the right way so when you come back you’re ready to go.
“Obviously he was ready to go when he came back.”
Rieder credits a lot of his early success to the chances he has been given to play by the Pirates’ coaching staff.
“On the ice, the coach is giving me the opportunity to play on the power play, on the penalty kill,” he said. “I played with a couple of great players out there the last couple of games, and it just seems to work out so far,” he said.
In his first two games back from injury, Rieder, a center, teamed up with wings Brandon Yip and Chris Brown to form a formidable first line for the Pirates.
“He’s obviously shown he’s a great player early on,” said Yip, a veteran of four NHL seasons. “He’s got a lot of great attributes, his speed being one of them.
“He flies out there. He’s not afraid to get into the corners and battle for loose pucks. As he shown, he’s got a great shot as well. You put all those together and you can see he’s going to be a great player.”
Edwards likes what his prized rookie has accomplished in the first six weeks of his pro hockey career.
“It’s a small sample size but so far so good,” Edwards said. “The challenge for (Rieder) is to continue to improve and where to improve and understand you can’t ever get complacent in this game. Even if you have a good start, consistency is the key.”
During his three seasons at Kitchener, Rieder was the model of consistency, averaging more than a point per game during his time with the Rangers, but he sees plenty of room for improvement.
“I’d like to improve everything, obviously,” he said. “I’ve just got to get stronger. I think I have the skill set but I’ve just got to get stronger to outmuscle players in the league. That’s my main focus.”
NOTES: Brown was reassigned to the Pirates after playing 7 minutes, 7 seconds for the Coyotes in their 3-2 overtime win Wednesday night against the Blues in St. Louis. … Rieder is the second German-born player to suit up for the Pirates in the past decade. Felix Schutz played two seasons for them when the team was affiliated with the Buffalo Sabres.
Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: