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Boo Nieves might be more than just AHL depth

Bobby Bevilacqua

boo-nieves-puck-battle-10-6

Cristoval “Boo” Nieves skates in his lone preseason game against the Flyers. Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennet/Getty Images.

The talk of the New York Rangers training camp and preseason has been the amount of talent in the forward group, as well as who will be playing on the fourth line? With the emergence of Brandon Pirri and Josh Jooris coming back for the last preseason game, everything is still a bit murky when it comes to the structure of the four lines.

However, one name that never seemed to be on anyone’s radar was Cristoval “Boo” Nieves, the Rangers’ 2012 second round pick who spent the last four years at the University of Michigan. He missed most of training camp with an injury suffered during the Traverse City Tournament, but suited up for the final preseason game against the Flyers. Nieves played over 14 minutes and was a -1 with three shots on goal and some time spent on the penalty kill.

In his senior season, Nieves scored 31 points (10-21-31) in 35 games, and in eight games with the Wolf Pack, he scored another five points (2-3-5). Nieves is a big, strong center at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds. He’s always been known as a good defensive player and excels on the penalty kill.

It seemed like the Rangers were just looking to give him some NHL experience and get a quick look at him before he began his professional career with the Hartford Wolf Pack. And while they did indeed send him to Hartford after the game, Alain Vigneault’s postgame comments indicated that they might not be done with Nieves yet.

“I saw a big, strong, skating center that had barely played in the last two weeks,” Vigneault said about Nieves after the game. “I liked some of the things that he did. Hartford has a couple of games coming up and, we skate Saturday but then we have Sunday off, so we were gonna discuss whether we were gonna keep him around or let him play a couple of games and then take a look again. That is a good question and all things we are going to discuss.”

It seems like the plan is to watch how Nieves plays in Hartford during their preseason, and potentially bring him back to the team next week. Out of all of the Rangers prospects, Nieves might be the closest to NHL ready, particularly in a fourth line role as a result of his defensive abilities and his size. Guys like Marek Hrivik and Nicklas Jensen didn’t stand out or impress all that much. Brandon Pirri isn’t your prototypical fourth liner and Oscar Lindberg is sidelined with a hip injury for about a month.

Josh Jooris won the job by default despite not playing all that much in the preseason either. Jooris, 26, has had a decent two seasons in the NHL, scoring 16 goals and 37 points through 119 games, with 24 of those points coming in a 12 goal, 12 assist rookie season. He’s been a pretty good player in terms of possession, defense and penalty killing but has seen most of his production come when playing with guys like Johnny Gaudreau, not with fourth liners. His injury meant that Vigneault didn’t get to see a lot of him in his own system, and his comments following the game against the Flyers weren’t encouraging either.

“He tried hard, he hadn’t really skated a lot, but he tried hard,” Vigneault said. “That is the type of player he is supposed to be PK, and being a gritty player but we will have to compare him to some other guys in the middle and see what we feel are the best decisions.”

Those comments make it seem like Vigneault isn’t too confident in Jooris or Jooris will be fine on the fourth line and realistically, that’s where he is going to start the season. I don’t think he’ll blow anyone away or do anything spectacular, but he can be a steady force defensively while chipping in some points.

If Vigneault and management think that Nieves is ready, there’s a real chance that he plays on opening night as the fourth line center. He’s always been a good defensively, and his size and speed translate well to adapting to the NHL. While he hasn’t always capitalized on his offensive skills, Nieves has shows signs of improvement in that department.

It didn’t seem like the initial plan, but Boo Nieves has caught everyone by surprise and might find himself on the Rangers sooner rather than later.

Quotes from SNY Rangers.

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Posted on October 9, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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