WASHINGTON — Boo Nieves, a music performance major at the University of Michigan, is settling into a little groove in the NHL.
He’s not getting the attention of Calder Trophy candidates such as the Coyotes’ Clayton Keller or the Islanders’ Mathew Barzal, but the 23-year-old rookie center is at least beginning to carve a niche on the Rangers roster.
The evidence: After Nieves scored his first NHL goal on a low wrister from the right side in the first period Tuesday against the Penguins, coach Alain Vigneault also deployed the 6-3 center late in the game to help protect a 4-3 lead.
“It’s cool to see him have confidence to put me out there late in the game,” said Nieves. “It’s something you’ve got to roll with and be ready when your name gets called.”
Nieves, who has not been on the ice for a goal against (130:58 of ice time) this season, won six of 10 faceoffs Tuesday and played 13:05. With No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad sidelined indefinitely with a concussion, Nieves’ role and ice time may increase with the Rangers, who visit the Capitals on Friday.
“He’s real strong one-on-one and a real solid skater,” said Vigneault. “I thought he used that (Tuesday). It was an important goal for us; there’s no doubt Boo is improving. With every game, every minute he plays, he gets more experience and he’s going to get better.”
Nieves may not be the flashiest goal scorer, and is concentrating on playing an all-around game. “I didn’t even know how (the goal) it went in, it took me a second to realize,” said Nieves, who has four assists in 13 games. “I just tried to stay focused on the game, now is maybe the time to watch it.”
Nieves didn’t make the Rangers out of camp, but started with a bang when summoned from Hartford. He collected three assists in a 5-2 victory over Arizona on Oct. 26. The second-rounder in the 2012 draft, who grew up near Syracuse, then missed a few games first, with the flu and then a hip pointer, but is learning to play through the expected ailments and minor injuries.
Along with wingers Jesper Fast and Paul Carey, that fourth line produced two goals and an assist on Tuesday. Nieves earned his second point in two games, Fast has produced four goals and an assist in the last seven and Carey has two goals and three points in his last six games.
“They were playing well, better than some of the other guys,” said Vigneault. “When you get down to the last seven or eight minutes, I went down to nine forwards and they were in because that line had been real effective at both ends of the rink.”
There’s two things that the line does well, Nieves said. “We play fast; I think speed kills in this league,” he noted. “The other is our simplicity, we don’t try anything too crazy, we keep pucks on the boards, make the smart play in front of us, and I think that’s starting to pay off.”