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Practice Report: Nieves Ready to Plug in at Center

Vigneault on DeAngelo; Stepan Returns to MSG; Cracknell to Hartford

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia / NYRangers.com

Head coach Alain Vigneault said his team was in need of a center with size and speed, and is hopeful Boo Nieves fills that role Thursday night when he makes his season debut against the Coyotes at Madison Square Garden.

"A natural centerman and a guy who can skate. We obviously need that down the middle," Vigneault said.

The scouting report from Hartford were positive for the 22-year-old, and Vigneault felt the time was right to see what the 2012 second-rounder could add to his squad.

"He was skating, was skating on the puck, was good in his one-on-ones and good in the faceoff circle," he said. "That natural centerman that can skate fits into the type of team we're trying to build and hopefully he can come and bring that to us."

Nieves is hopeful as well. After posting two goals and an assist in seven games with the Wolf Pack this season, he's looking to just stick to his strengths - namely size and speed - that in his mind are attributes few players possess.

"I feel like my speed is definitely something that always catches their eye. I'm a pretty big guy, and I feel guys like me that can move like that are pretty unique," he said. "I think I just need to play with speed and everything else will come."

Video: Alain Vigneault on Nieves, facing the Coyotes

Nieves centered Michael Grabner and Pavel Buchnevich in practice, and that line is expected to start Thursday. Nieves said he's excited to play with a fellow speedster like Grabner, whom Nieves said he watches closely whenever he catches a Ranger game.

"He's a really quick player. He's someone I always watch when I'm watching them play," he said. "Hopefully I can get him the puck and we'll see what we can do."

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Vigneault said the decision to assign defenseman Tony DeAngelo to the AHL was based on his need to play big minutes, something that wasn't happening at the NHL level.

"A tremendous amount of upside there," Vigneault said of the 22-year-old DeAngelo. "You see that offensive, right-handed defenseman. He's a young player. He needs to play, needs to develop and wasn't getting enough ice time here, so we're going to send him there and when we feel he's ready to help us, we'll do what we have to do at that time."

Vigneault pointed to making quicker decisions with the puck as an area of DeAngelo's game he'd like the youngster to focus on.

"The skill set is there. I'd like him in certain situations to move the puck a little bit quicker than he has. He has a lot of confidence in his abilities and hangs on to it," he said. "When you want to play a fast game, part of it is north south real quick. But he's a player. He's going to play. He needs to work on a few things in his game but he's going to be a good player for us."

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Thursday marks the return of Derek Stepan to New York following last June's trade that sent him to Arizona in exchange for DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick (Lias Andersson).

Several former teammates, including Ryan McDonagh, shared what Stepan meant to them and the organization and admitted how strange a feeling it would be to see Stepan in an unfamiliar jersey. 

"Got a little taste of it in the summer when his Coyotes gear showed up. That was a little bit of a shock to see him in that," McDonagh said with a laugh. "I've been following him along here and talking to him along the way. It's certainly a different situation for him being on a different team. Different here a little bit for us too without him being in our group.

"At the end of the day, he's a competitor, we're competitors," McDonagh added. "We're going to work hard against each other on the ice. Both teams are in dire need of points here, so that's going to take over as the game progresses."

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The Rangers assigned forward Adam Cracknell to Hartford of the AHL after he cleared waivers

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