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2019 Report Card: Boo Nieves

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Do the Rangers have their fourth line center in Nieves?

New York Rangers v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Expectations

Expectations were low for Boo Nieves heading into the 2018-19 season. The former second round pick scored his first NHL goal last season on Dec. 5, but he fell out of the lineup due to food poisoning and a hip injury. After recovering from those ailments Nieves spent the rest of the season — from Jan. 19 forward — in the AHL.

At the end of the 2017-18 season Nieves had appeared in 28 games with the Rangers. He recorded one goal, eight assists, and 12 PIM. As one might expect, he failed to move the needle much in the shot share when he was on the ice. Nieves had a -1.42 Rel Corsi For percentage (Rel CF%) and a -2.60 Rel Corsi Against per hour (Rel CA/60).

Nieves started the 2018-19 season as a 24-year-old center with a career average of 0.50 points per-game in the AHL. Along with Brett Howden, Lias Andersson, and Peter Holland, he was battling for a spot as the Rangers’ fourth line center.

Performance

Nieves’ big opportunity to impress new head coach David Quinn was spoiled in an exhibition game. He suffered a concussion in the first game of the Rangers’ preseason when he was the recipient of a high hit from Eric Gryba of the New Jersey Devils. It was a brutal start to a pivotal season for the young pivot, who was playing in the final year of his contract.

Nieves practiced with the Rangers for the first time after his concussion on Nov. 3 after skating in a few practices with the Wolf Pack. After that practice with the Rangers, Nieves played 12 games in Hartford before his next opportunity to impress Quinn. In that 12-game window, Nieves piled up three goals and four assists.

The Rangers recalled Nieves on Dec. 15, and the fourth-line center picked up two goals and five assists and appeared in 10 games where he saw less than 10 minutes of ice time in that window. Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton sent Nieves back down on Jan. 19th before calling him up again on Jan. 27. From Jan. 29th forward, Nieves stuck with the big club.

The sample sizes of Nieves on special teams are so finite that they hardly warrant mention. He averaged 0:34 shorthanded TOI/GP — which was less than Lias Andersson. However, he did average 0:47 SH TOI/GP after the trade deadline, which suggests that Quinn and the coaching staff either liked what they saw from Nieves or were searching for answers with Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello out of the picture — or maybe both.

In the 18 games that Nieves played after the trade deadline he averaged 9:57 TOI/GP at even strength — or 8:54 TOI/GP at 5v5 per naturalstattrick.com. Nieves averaged 8:30 TOI/GP at 5v5 in the 29 games he played before the deadline. So, he saw a slight increase in ice time, but the real victory for Nieves was that he stayed up with the big club and that he and Steven Fogarty signed one-year extensions on deadline day.

So, what did Nieves do with that ice time?

The forwards that Nieves spent the least amount of 5v5 with this season were Hayes, Zuccarello, and Mika Zibanejad; the forwards he spent the most amount of time with were Jimmy Vesey (99:45), Vladislav Namestnikov (72:52), and Lias Andersson (67:13). Namestnikov and Andersson had a better Rel CF% playing away from Nieves — 3.14 and 1.24, respectively — and Vesey was actually worse in the shot share when he played away from Nieves.

Nieves’ most frequent lines at 5v5

GP TOI CF CA C+/- CF% Rel CF% GF GA xGF xGA xGF% Rel xGF% PENT PEND PDO ZSR
GP TOI CF CA C+/- CF% Rel CF% GF GA xGF xGA xGF% Rel xGF% PENT PEND PDO ZSR
11 40.17 34 30 4 53.12 4.64 2 2 1.52 1.17 56.51 6.77 0 3 100 37.04
10 33.65 21 43 -22 32.81 -11.11 1 4 0.85 1.7 33.33 -11.73 1 0 90.95 40.91
9 20.47 16 14 2 53.33 5.71 0 0 0.55 0.54 50.46 0.36 3 3 100 33.33
5 15.9 15 21 -6 41.67 -2.89 1 0 0.86 1.12 43.43 -0.14 0 1 111.11 41.67
2 14.87 15 15 0 50 2.74 0 0 0.44 0.53 45.36 -8.64 0 0 100 33.33
All data courtesy of Corsica.hockey

Nieves had four goals and six assists in 43 games in the NHL this year. He had a -7.71 Rel CF%, which was the second-worst on the team among Rangers forwards who played in at least 20 games. Nieves also had the highest Relative percentage of defensive zone starts (Rel DZS%) among the Rangers’ forwards who played in at least 20 games by a significant margin — his 4.95 Rel DZS% was a clear cut above Namestnikov’s 3.91 Rel DZS%.

That deployment (and ice time) lines up with the role that Nieves has been working to carve out for himself over the last few seasons. Slowly but surely, he proved to Quinn that he could play in the NHL. He struggled mightily on the faceoff dot (38.8 FO%), but did finish the season ranked fourth among Rangers forwards in penalty differential. For the most part his periphery stats were something of a mixed bag.

Grade: B | Banter Consensus: B-

Considering how low expectations were for Nieves heading into the season, it’s hard to look at the 2018-19 season as anything but a success.

Nieves fought tooth and nail to stick in the Rangers lineup and eventually did. His pursuit of a regular roster spot was put into serious jeopardy by his concussion, but he achieved his goal. There are definitely aspects of Nieves’ game that need polish, but his size and speed make him a compelling option as the team’s fourth line center.

Nieves is signed through July 1, 2020 when he will become a restricted free agent.

All data courtesy of naturalstattrick.com, Corsica.hockey, and ahltracker.com.

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