Boo Nieves made headlines for scoring his first NHL goal on Tuesday vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It was a long time coming for the Rangers’ 59th overall pick at the 2012 draft, but it’s fair to say he deserves recognition for how he’s played since joining the lineup on October 26, first NHL goal withstanding.
A few numbers to point out on Nieves come via Natural Stat Trick, and they give a nice snapshot of how he has fared to date. At 5v5, Nieves has a Corsi spread of 114 for and 107 against, that culminates to a CF% of 51.58. He has a shot spread of 63 for and 52 against, for a SF% of 54.78. He also has a goal spread of six for and zero against that translate to GF% of 100. Lastly, he has a scoring chance spread of 67 for and 60 against, for a SCF% of 52.76.
These are fantastic numbers considering his deployment as a fourth liner, who doesn’t spend a ton of time in the offensive zone. Granted it has been just 13 games, but these are the numbers we have to work with. If you are interested in taking a deeper look at things, here is a link to Natural Stat Trick and Nieves with his most frequent linemates, Paul Carey and Jesper Fast.
Speaking of that deployment, Nieves is averaging 12.21 offensive zone faceoffs per 60, 24.41 neutral zone faceoffs per 60, and 18.55 defensive zone faceoffs per 60. Cutout by percent, only 22.12 percent (via Corsica.hockey) of his starts are in the offensive zone, and that’s the lowest percentage on the team. In other words, Nieves is being asked to be more defensive minded and yielding some solid results.
Once again, it’s important to note the small sample for transparency; small samples may not be completely indicative of a player’s skill, but can give insights into that player’s abilities and help indicate whether to not they deserve a longer look in the lineup.
In all honesty I’d be interested to see Nieves with some gifted wingers. Offensively it might be interesting, as evidenced by the magic he made with Pavel Buchnevich (whose last name sounds like Boo Nieves if you say it really fast).
Speaking of offense, the Baldwinsville, NY native has appeared in 13 games with the Rangers skating 122:52 at 5v5, and in addition to the goal scored on Tuesday he has three assists (two primary) for a total of four points. Although it should be noted that those three assists came in one game, in his season debut against the Arizona Coyotes.
That information withstanding, Nieves isn’t a player who you should judge primarily based on offense.
There was a time, primarily after he was drafted, where it looked like Nieves could be a quality scoring forward in a second to third line capacity. He put up 72 points in 60 games as a midget. He also was solid in back-to-back seasons at the Kent School. Adding to his potential was the fact that when he was drafted, he was 6’3”, really fast, and had a frame with room to get stronger.
In college Nieves had strong junior and senior years, tallying 0.80 and 0.90 points per game respectively. In four years he recorded 105 points in 139 games, which averaged to 0.76 points per game. This number was slightly hurt by the 0.65 points per game average registered during Nieves’ sophomore season though.
Nieves has evolved as a player since being drafted, and it is something he’s made a point to focus on. I had the opportunity to cover Nieves when Michigan came to Madison Square Garden for a game against Penn State in January 2016. In the clip below, Nieves scores his first goal on MSG ice.
I got a chance to speak to him about his play in college and where he’d come since stepping onto the ice at MSG for the first time since 2012.
At the time Nieves said, “I feel like I have improved in a number of areas, but consistency is the biggest thing.” He made it a point to talk about the impact legendary coach Red Berenson has had on his development, and how he’s learned to look at the game differently. “Coach is on me to make sure I am making an impact every shift,” said Nieves. At that point in time he had hoped to put on some more muscle to emulate Joe Thornton given the fact that he was similar in frame; Nieves is 6’3” and 212 pounds, and Jumbo is 6’4” and 220 pounds.
I reflect on that interview because shortly after that, Nieves transitioned from the NCAA to AHL and looked like a player who was going to make a splash. In his first eight games, he tallied two goals and three assists for five points on a Hartford Wolf Pack team who could have used an up-and-comer. The next year was supposed to be a solid transition year, but it ended up with Nieves appearing in just 40 games tallying 18 points as he dealt with concussions.
Right now, he’s in the process of making the jump from AHL to NHL. Nieves had high hopes of being an offensive player whose name is a familiar one on the score sheet. That hasn’t gone the way he thought he would, but he’s done everything he can to follow the advice of his college coach; he’s accepting the role the Rangers have put him in, and looking to make an impact every shift. Right now, that’s what the team needs – and Nieves is more than willing to do it.
Stats via Natural Stat Trick. Support their Patreon if you can.