VANCOUVER, British Columbia — While the Rangers were aiming for their third consecutive win on this Western Canada road trip against the Canucks on Tuesday night, the young man wearing No. 67 in white at the morning skate was just getting loose.
After all, Cristoval “Boo” Nieves had arrived late Monday after a cross-country flight from Hartford and hadn’t faced an NHL squad since Oct. 6, when he pulled on a Blueshirts jersey to face the visiting Flyers in a preseason game. “I had a lot of nerves that day. We basically played against a full Philadelphia team,” he recalled.
The Rangers lost 4-2, but Nieves coming off an injury and centering a line with Michael Grabner and Jesper Fast, came close to scoring and learned a lesson.
Late in the first period, Nieves and Marc Staal came down ice shorthanded on a two-on-one rush, and Nieves tried a pass that was broken up. Nieves retrieved the puck and attempted another pass to the defenseman. He never saw Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth out of position. “I feel like if I pick my head up, that’s a pretty easy goal,” Nieves said at the time. “Hopefully I get another shot at that.”
On Tuesday, the 22-year-old got that opportunity against the Canucks, this time in an NHL game that counted, playing between Brandon Pirri and Oscar Lindberg.
Nieves played 11:44 in the Rangers’ 7-2 victory Tuesday night, with one missed shot, a block and won three of 10 faceoffs.
“It was his fourth game in five nights, flew across east to west, so for a young man, he played a good game for us,” coach Alain Vigneault said.
Nieves, who grew up near Syracuse, was at his Connecticut apartment when the phone rang Monday morning. “I was sending off a few texts,” Nieves said, “and got a call from [Wolf Pack coach] Ken Gernander; he said ‘Pack your bags.’ . . . It doesn’t register for a little bit, then you make a few calls. My mom started crying on the phone and my dad was pretty close to tears, too. You think about them taking me to those 6 a.m. practices for years and it’s finally here.”
Nieves, a 2012 second-round pick who attended the University of Michigan, played 13 games in Hartford this season with a goal and five assists.
“In wins-and-losses terms, we haven’t been great,” said Nieves, who is 6-3 and 219 pounds, “but I feel personally I’ve made some pretty good strides; it hasn’t shown up on the stat sheet. I’ve sat down with the coaches a few times [watching video], and I think I can clean that up.”
After that Flyers game, Vigneault said: “I saw a big, strong-skating centerman that hadn’t barely played in the last two weeks [because of an injury]. I liked some of the things he did.”
On Tuesday before the game, Vigneault said: “He had a good rookie camp in Traverse City, he was right behind both Jimmy [Vesey] and Pavel [Buchnevich] . . . He played well in Hartford and our guys thought he deserved to come up.”
Nieves said hadn’t received any specific directive from Vig neault before his second game against an NHL squad. “I think I just need to come and play. He likes my size and speed. I’ve got to use that. It feels great to come to a team that’s winning and knows how to win. It makes it easier: I don’t have to do anything crazy, just try to fit in.”
Brady Skjei, who has nine assists in his first full season with the Rangers, is somewhat familiar with Nieves’ style.
“I first got to meet him when we played together at age 15, then played against him in the USHL,” Skjei said. “I was with the U.S. National Development Program and he was with Indiana. I haven’t really gotten to speak with him, may say a few things before the game, but I’m sure he’ll be fine.’’