With their senior seasons coming to an end at the NCAA Frozen Four Tournament, Boo Nieves (2012 second round) and Steve Fogarty (2011 third round) signed entry-level contracts with the Rangers and made the jump to the pros. Ken Gernander, head coach in Hartford, wasted no time and put them into the lineup immediately. Both made their debuts Friday night and had some good moments. In fact, each registered a primary assist in Hartford's 5-1 win.
Nieves' assist came in the second period and gave Hartford a 2-0 lead. He sent a pass from the defensive zone to an in-stride Chris Brown, who carried the puck the length of the ice before sniping it home.
Fogarty's assist gave Hartford a 5-1 lead lead in the third period. Having just received the puck behind the net, Fogarty (wearing 44) sent it back to Tyler Brown, who sent it to the front. The puck bounced off a Hershey player and into the net.
Clearly, neither assist was a work of art. However, getting on the score sheet this quickly will hopefully ease their nerves and give them some early confidence.
Nieves had a few other solid shifts. Perhaps his best moment was drawing a holding penalty, which led to Hartford's third goal.
This is exactly what we want to see from Nieves. He has a Scott Gomez-like ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone with speed. He then can use those wheels plus his large frame to drive forward and make a play. It forces the defense to back off and concede the blue line or to take penalties like these. Sometimes at Michigan he was too passive and didn't show off this ability enough. It's a good sign that he had the confidence to do so in his first AHL game.
Fogarty played on the fourth line, but played well enough early on that Gernander use him frequently throughout the game. Fogarty, wearing 44, had a number of good shifts. In the following examples, he forces offensive zone turnovers.
In this next clip, Fogarty is the one who intercepts the puck at the blue line and immediately sends it back to a lteammate down low.
These are all plays that won't make the highlight reel but show how he can be an effective player. Fogarty is a strong player with positional smarts. He can hold up in both a man-to-man setup or in a zone setup. He uses his smarts plus strength to make these kinds of plays that disrupt the opposition's breakout and, in effect, generate offense for his team. When you envision a checking center at the NHL level, this is what you hope for.
Nieves had another primary assist on a Daniel Paille goal in Hartford's other weekend game. It's a good start to both Fogarty's and Nieves' pro careers. A combination of underwhelming offensive output in Hartford this season plus a number of expiring contracts guarantees that the Wolf Pack will be a very different team next season. This stint gives both prospects a chance to acclimate now and go into next season ready to compete for prominent roles.