His introduction to professional hockey only lasted roughly two weeks with the Hartford Wolf Pack this past April, but it was long enough for Rangers prospect Boo Nieves to come to one major realization.
"I was there for a reason, and I could play with these guys," Nieves said of his eight-game stint at the end of the season with the Rangers AHL affiliate in Hartford.
The 22 year-old 2012 second-round draft pick joined the Wolf Pack immediately following the conclusion of his four-year collegiate career at the University of Michigan in late March and went on to record five points in eight games over a span of 15 days with Hartford.
"The most important thing I learned is to trust what got me there, play to my abilities" Nieves told BlueshirtsUnited.com. "You see a lot of guys who jump into other leagues and they try and change the way they play, and it really doesn't work out. I feel like my speed and my size got me to the AHL, so those are the strengths I need to play to."
After establishing career-highs across the board with ten goals, 21 assists and 31 points in 35 games during his senior season at Michigan, Nieves left Ann Arbor and joined a Wolf Pack team that was desperately fighting for a playoff spot. Nieves stepped right into the lineup and picked up assists in his first two professional games against Hershey and Portland.
Then on April 8 in Springfield Boo scored the first two goals of his professional career, and finished with a +4 plus/minus rating, in a big win over the Falcons.
"My first goal was just kind of a harmless play," explained Nieves. "I just did what I always do, come up the middle and go to the net, and I was kind of lucky the puck just kind of went in off the goalie. It was a cool feeling."
Centering a line with veterans Chris Brown and Daniel Paille on the wings, Nieves made it points in each of his first four games when he assisted on another Wolf Pack goal the following night.
"To get some points right off the bat gets you into the game and the team right away," said Nieves. "It was awesome. I think that I really just rode that confidence the rest of the games I was there. It really made me really realize I was there for a reason, could play with these guys, and there was no mistake why I was out there."
Nieves said that he was "like a sponge" those two weeks, trying to absorb everything he could about the pro game and how to conduct himself like a professional--with both Paille and Brown not only playing the role of linemates, but mentors, as well.
Sharing the experience with fellow Rangers prospect Steven Fogarty--the club's third round pick in 2011 and former two-year captain at Notre Dame--who also joined the Wolf Pack at the end of his collegiate career in March was special for Nieves, too.
"It was definitely nice having Fogarty in the same exact position I was, having him by my side going through the same things," offered Nieves. "Over the past few years, going to the development camps together with the Rangers we to know each other a little bit, so it was nice having him there going through everything together. We definitely became a lot closer those few weeks we were together (in Hartford)."
Armed with a taste of the pro game and what it is expected of him next fall when he attends training camp and embarks on his first full season as a professional hockey player, Nieves plans on spending the off-season working out at the MSG Training Center in Westchester--taking advantage of the top-notch facilities.
"My couple weeks with Hartford was a blast and I definitely learned a lot," stated Nieves. "It makes me even more excited to get next season started already."