TARRYTOWN, N.Y. — It’s been three years since the New York Rangers drafted Cristoval “Boo” Nieves in the second round (59th overall) of the NHL draft. And it’s been two years since he first participated in the annual Rangers Prospect Camp.
In one year, he will graduate from Michigan and, depending on his performance, possibly transition from wearing maize and blue shirts to being a Blueshirt.
But after a standard freshman year, a shaky sophomore year and a solid junior year, the senior forward might have figured out the key to consistency — confidence.
“Between the first time I came to camp and the second, I would definitely say confidence is the biggest difference in me,” Nieves said. “Confidence in skating, faceoffs, everything around me. I think confidence is giving me a little more of a performance boost, and I want to bring that back to Michigan.”
His execution during the Rangers’ camp at the Madison Square Garden Training Center in Westchester County, N.Y. certainly improved from his 2014-2015 collegiate season and his spring six-week workout with the Michigan hockey team. And his skating earned respect from fellow prospects and potential future teammates.
Fellow Big Ten hockey player and Rangers prospect, forward Vinnie Lettieri from the University of Minnesota, said Nieves is a “standout leader and (has) promising potential.”
Nieves attributes his attention to detail — most importantly his need to get low, keep his stick controlled and become a better two-way player — to Michigan coach Red Berenson.
“My goal is to make sure everyone knows it’s me every time I’m out there,” Nieves said. “I need to be engaged, be consistent and make something happen every time I go on the ice.”
He added after the camp: “Leaving, I feel way better than I did walking in. I had a good start but a better finish. I think I did pretty well.”
Most notable to the Rangers’ staff, sportswriters and a couple of fans in attendance was the physical difference between 2013 and now. With more muscle definition and standing a tad taller, Nieves was a formidable force on the ice.
Nieves was also complimented on his skating and passing skills. Both were noticeably developed in contrast to his first year at the camp.
The newly elected alternate captain for the 2015-2016 Wolverines did admit that his defensive skills could use a little help. The forward also acknowledged his need to keep the puck on his stick longer and attempt more shots.
Nieves, both at Rangers’ camps and at Michigan, has shown an affinity for setting up his teammates with passes rather than being more assertive with his own shots.
His tendency to go for the assist rather than the shot has led to relatively low scoring statistics. He scored just seven goals his junior season, three as a sophomore and eight his freshman campaign, but had 21 assists in both his junior and freshman seasons and 19 as a sophomore.
Despite the slightly disappointing statistics, Nieves said he plans to carry his “positive vibes” from training camp through to his senior season, while looking to increase his goal production. Aside from team goals, Nieves knows he still faces an uphill battle to staying in Rangerstown for good.
The Baldwinsville, N.Y. native has connected with current and former members of the Rangers organization in hopes of bridging the gap between college and the pros. A lot of progress needs to be made, but one thing will stay the same.
“I introduced myself as Boo,” Nieves said. “It’s my hockey name.”