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Nieves Sets Sights on Opening Night Roster

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia / NYRangers.com

The 2016-17 season was a giant learning experience for Rangers prospect Cristoval 'Boo' Nieves. Some lessons were good, others more frustrating, but the young center knows it'll benefit him down the road.

"I think it was a good first season," Nieves told NYRangers.com on Monday at the organization's Junior Rangers youth hockey camp. "It was definitely frustrating at times when I wasn't playing as well or wasn't fully healthy all the time, but it is what it is. I'm kind of glad I got that kind of season out of the way, because hopefully it's just up from here now." 

The 2012 second-round pick wrapped up his first season of pro hockey with AHL Hartford that saw him post six goals and 18 points in a season that was limited to just 40 games due to injury. An injury prior to training camp limited Nieves to just one preseason game with the big club.

But the positives far outweighed the negatives as he navigated the terrain during his first pro campaign. Nieves said the season was all about being a pro both on and off the ice.

Away from the rink, Nieves learned about the lifestyle as a professional. During his days at the University of Michigan, there was hockey, of course, but also the responsibilities that come as a student-athlete. This year, hockey was the focus.

On the ice, Nieves said he learned the pro style that focused on puck possession and decision making, including where to be and when.

"Positioning has been a lot more important now," he said. "There are specialty guys now, those guys who can sit on the half wall and score from anywhere, and then there's guys who can skate like the wind. There's a little bit of everything. I think I learned to just kind of take it all in and just adapt."

The highlight, of course, was his recall to New York on November 15 against the Canucks in Vancouver. Nieves played 11:44 that night, but it was more about the experience and the impact it had on him the rest of the season, which has now carried over to this upcoming one.

"I felt I deserved the chance I was given," Nieves stated. "Obviously, I wish I could have stayed longer, but it is what it is. I learned a lot when I was up there, even for the couple days I was there. Being with those guys was pretty cool, and I think it was more of an incentive to work that much harder to try and get back to that."

With the first season behind him, Nieves has now been focusing on what's ahead in a big summer for the 23-year-old.

The 6-foot-3, 219-pounder has been training in Connecticut with the team's strength and conditioning consultant, Ben Prentiss. He said on a normal day, he'll arrive at the gym at around 2 pm to work out before hitting the ice at night for skills training and scrimmages.

"It's been great so far," Nieves said of his offseason regiment. "It's my second year up there. I absolutely love it. A lot more guys [are training there], too. He's starting to blow up."

Nieves said last season there were "a lot of jitters and a lot of nerves" during his first camp with the club. This year, though, there's more of a comfort level as he knows what will be expected of him as he competes for a spot on the opening night roster. 

"I'm trying to make the team," Nieves said. "I think that's my goal this year. I think it's something I'm capable of as long as I'm healthy and I'm playing my best. I think there's a chance to show what I can really do at this level. I just want to prove that I belong here."

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