New York Rangers: Scouting the Future Blueshirts, Cristoval Nieves
Cristoval Nieves, Twitter, @nyrangers

The next prospect on the list of scouting the future Blueshirts is New York Rangers youngster Cristoval Nieves.

Cristoval Nieves‘ immediate future with the New York Rangers could become considerably more clear Jun. 20 when his team will hold its breath and watch as the Vegas Golden Knights select one of its players in the expansion draft.

That player could be fourth-line center Oscar Lindberg, who would likely end up being a serious loss. If Lindberg is the selection, the 6-foot-3, 219-pound Nieves could be in line for an opportunity to replace him as the fourth-line pivot.

The club’s second-round pick in 2012 (59th overall) who then spent four years at the University of Michigan, has NHL size and exceptional straight-line speed, and the Rangers have to be hoping he’s ready to make the leap as they are likely to lose a valuable bottom-six forward to Vegas — or perhaps trade one or more forwards in a deal to upgrade the defense. Nieves, a left-handed shot, has played one game with the Rangers, failing to record a point and posting a minus-1 rating in 11 minutes, 44 seconds of ice time in a 7-2 win at Vancouver on Nov. 15.

Nieves was also under consideration to make the Rangers’ roster out of training camp last season, but after not surviving the cut, he didn’t have a standout season at Hartford with six goals, 12 assists and a minus-7 rating in 40 games — perhaps dealing with some growing pains as he continued to adapt to the pro game. He was also slowed by injuries. Nieves’ speed and size could make him a strong candidate to center a fourth line that could be completely rebuilt next season — or fill another vacated forward spot – but the native of Baldwinsville, N.Y. will have to show plenty in training camp to seize a job.

Nieves’ smooth, easy movements belie his quickness, and he’s flashed top-end stick handling skills and the ability to beat defenders one-on-one. He’s also an exceptional passer with vision, has an accurate shot and can finish. He drives to the net — a skill much in demand for this Rangers team — and moves well laterally to find open ice.

The organization has urged Nieves to shoot more, as his pass-first mentality has at times proven to be too unselfish. Nieves will need to become more physical, and players his size can face a longer learning curve, but the 23-year-old might be ready to contribute at the NHL level in 2017-18.

  • Projection: Fourth- or eventual third-line center
  • Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18
  • NHL comparable: Artem Anisimov