Thursday afternoon at the MSG Training Center Boo Nieves was on hand to work with the youngsters attending the Rangers Youth Hockey Camp, and the team's second round pick in the 2012 draft wore a broad smile the entire time. Not far removed from when he was attending hockey camps himself, the 21 year-old Nieves seemed like a big brother while interacting with the boys and girls on and off the ice Thursday.
"I definitely feel a really strong connection with the kids," Nieves told BlueshirtsUnited.com during a break between on-ice sessions. "They are so excited, and really fun to be around. They are hilarious out there, floating around, doing fun drills, chirping with me. It's a really good time, for me, as well as for them."
While many of the children attending the camp do so just to have a good time, learn the game, and improve their skills, there are some boys and girls who harbor greater legitimate dreams of advancing their hockey "careers" to the collegiate or possibly professional levels.
Of course that is something Nieves can relate, reflecting back on when he realized his aspirations to further his hockey career were more than just a pipe dream.
"Around the age of 14 or 15 schools started to look at me and I realized this was for real," recalled Nieves, an upstate New York native who will be entering his senior year at the University of Michigan this fall. "I committed (to Michigan) at 15, and then the next step was professional hockey. You talk to scouts after prep school games for years, and then next thing I know I'm sitting in Pittsburgh (at the 2012 NHL Draft) waiting to hear my name called."
"The most important thing, though, was that I always just loved playing hockey as a kid. Even now, even when I am off the ice or in the off season. I am always thinking about hockey."
Nieves is still full of boyish enthusiasm, but he has a mature approach to the coming season, his final year of college eligibility. He has filled out into a more solid 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame, and is focusing on becoming stronger and even better conditioned.
He knows that he needs to show what kind of professional NHL prospect he is this season, and definitely made a big impression already this summer on Gordie Clark, the Rangers Director of Player Personnel, who declared that Nieves was the most impressive player at the team's recent Prospects Development Camp.
"This is definitely the biggest and most important year I've ever had in my hockey career," stated a more serious Nieves. "This year could really launch me into a really good position with New York; but I'm doing my best to just focus on the here and now. I feel like if you look down the road then you are not in the present and not taking care of the important things that help make you successful. But I am aware what a big year this is for me."
Nieves notched 28 points as a junior a year ago, scoring seven goals and adding 21 assists in 35 games. He scored twice in a February game against a University of Minnesota squad that featured the Rangers top pick in that same 2012 draft--defenseman Brady Skjei.
Boo's production last season was just off his career-best numbers established over 40 games as a freshman with Michigan when he scored eight goals, added 21 assists, and finished with 29 points.
He expects more offensive contributions during his senior season, one that will see him proudly wearing a letter on his Wolverine's jersey.
"I think it's awesome for me," Nieves said of the honor. "I think it's a big challenge for me on top of trying to be one of the better players on our team. Now I'll also get the chance to help lead our team on and off the ice."
Thursday, though, was about Boo Nieves sharing his time with the children at the Rangers Youth Hockey Camp, and you get the impression that was more than fine with Boo.
There's still time to remember who he recently was as a youngster before Boo Nieves tries to identify who he will be moving forward in the New York Rangers organization.