In recent drafts the majority of players have come from major junior, USHL, or NCAA hockey. Players playing in leagues lower than these are very hard to read because of the low level of competition they are playing against. Stats usually look amazing on these prospects and on most nights, these players are not truly tested as much as NHL scouts would want them to be. However, most scouts love prospects playing in lower levels because you can grab some really good draft sleepers. This year I feel that Cristoval (Boo) Nieves will be the sleeper of the draft. This is mainly due to the fact that he is playing Prep hockey in the state of Connecticut. The level of hockey in the Prep system in the United States is far below say the OHL and the USHL. As you can tell by the numbers Boo has been putting up since going to Connecticut.
Growing up in Baldwinsville, New York, Nieves was a minor hockey star playing for the Syracuse Nationals AAA program. During his minor midget year he was ranked as a potential first round pick by many Ontario Hockey League scouts. These rankings however did not mean much to Nieves who always wanted to play NCAA hockey instead of major junior. A lot of OHL teams did not want to take a risk on him because of his future plans. He ended up slipping all the way to the 10th round being picked up by the Niagara Ice Dogs who hoped he would change his mind on his future plans.
During that minor midget season I was able to watch Nieves play in a tournament in Toronto about mid way through the season. Out of everyone in the whole tournament I would say he stood out the most. His size and speed were just phenomenal. His skating stride is so smooth and effortless it looks like he is just gliding around. Every time he had the puck he would create something for either himself or his teammates. Not many big players can skate like Nieves does and that is why the University of Michigan heavily recruited him during his minor midget season playing for Syracuse. Cristoval ended up committing to Michigan for the start of the 2012 season. Michigan is hoping they don’t lose him before he starts the season to the OHL as they have in the past with many great players. His OHL rights were traded to the Saginaw Spirit recently because Niagara felt they had zero chance of ever seeing Nieves playing for the Ice Dogs. As Saginaw is an American team, they feel they would have an edge in recruiting him to leave the NCAA.
Following his minor midget season many expected Nieves to play for the US Under 17 program in Ann Arbor, but he declined an offer the team gave him. Nobody really knows why he declined the offer at the time because he was later trying out for them and was cut. I am sure there was some politics in that decision to cut Nieves as he is for sure good enough to be on that team. He ended up deciding to play Prep hockey in Connecticut with Kent Prep. This decision was questioned by many people as the level of hockey in the Prep system is far below the standard of major junior and the USHL.
As expected he lit up the scoreboard in his first year with Kent scoring 61 points in 23 games. Playing only 23 games is why elite prospects usually choose against playing Prep hockey, but Nieves must feel it’s important to get a good education so he has something to fall back on after hockey. Even with all the skills Nieves has there is one area where I would like Nieves to work on and that is his is physical play. Like many big skilled guys he does not play with enough aggression and if he wants to play in the NHL he is going to have to play with an edge. Everyone in the NHL has skill, but those who play with an edge are the ones that are the most successful. Nieves is currently ranked anywhere from a late first rounder to an early third rounder according to scouting reports. Whoever drafts him should be patient and let Michigan develop him into a complete player and not just a scorer like he is now. He will probably not stay the full four years, but should stay around two to three years.
Making the jump to Michigan next season will not be an easy one as the level of play will be a step up from Prep hockey, but Nieves should be able to adapt quickly based on his skill set. Nieves is an exciting player as seen below and the fans at Yost will be treated on a nightly basis for the coming years.