In recent years, the state of California has seen the number of high-end talent steadily grow and move on to the highest developmental levels. Among the current crop is Boston University freshman Matt Nieto.
The Long Beach native came to Boston University after two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP). Last season, Nieto was tied for third on the team with 54 points (28 goals, 26 assists) in 61 contests. He also helped guide Team USA to two gold medals at the IIHF U-18 World Junior Championships in 2009 and 2010. Although he wasn’t named to Team USA’s IIHF U-20 World Junior squad this year, Nieto could potentially be a lock for next year’s team.
Prior to playing with the USNTDP, Nieto played at the Salisbury School in Connecticut. He is also the latest product to come out of the rising California hockey factory known as the LA Selects/LA Hockey Club (LAHC), which has already produced current NHL-drafted collegians Beau Bennett (PIT) and Jason Zucker (MIN). As Nieto explains, his time with the Selects/LAHC was invaluable in helping to shape the player that he has become today.
"Sandy Gasseau is probably the best coach that I ever played for in California. I played for him for a number of years. I took private lessons with Sandy and he’s a really great guy. I also have to give credit to the players that I played with like Emerson Etem (ANH) and Beau Bennett that have done a lot for me too."
At Boston University
Nieto has appeared in all 17 games to date for the Terriers, racking up six points (five goals, one assist). In recent games, he has played alongside fellow freshman Charlie Coyle (SJ) and sophomore Alex Chiasson (DAL) on Boston University’s top line. Nieto’s five goals are currently tied for third on the team. His first collegiate goal came back on Oct. 16 versus Hockey East foe UMass.
Like all freshmen, Nieto has had to make the adjustment to college both on and off the ice.
"The guys are definitely stronger and it’s more of a defensive game," said Nieto. "I’m fortunate enough to get a lot of ice time, playing with good players like Charlie Coyle and Alex Chiasson. So it’s made the transition a lot easier for me. I’m trying to do well in school as well because I think it rounds out what I do at the rink."
Nieto chose Boston University over Boston College and the WHL (Tri-Cities holds his rights) and one of the primary reasons he did so was head coach Jack Parker.
"I think the coaches here are awesome and the guys on the team were really cool to me when I visited the school. So I just felt really comfortable coming to BU. Playing for Coach Parker is unbelievable. He’s a good guy and does a great job of getting the best out of his players. He really pushes you to give it your all every shift. Coach Parker always stresses the importance of school to and he makes sure that you’re doing well both on and off the ice."
Since his time with the USNTDP, Nieto has seen his draft stock steadily rise. While he has played remarkably well thus far at Boston University, despite having only posted six points to date, how well he continues to perform in the second half with the Terriers could help determine just how high he will go in the draft.
Matt Nieto is a dynamic winger with an excellent offensive skill set and explosive speed that is really something to marvel at. He has great acceleration and a first gear that has gotten the attention of many in the scouting community. Nieto’s game-breaking speed allows him to create as well as open up space, and in turn, create offensive opportunities.
"I think my speed is my greatest asset. I try to utilize it in the neutral zone and create offense for both myself and my teammates," said Nieto.
Nieto has the ability to control the tempo of the game as well. He also possesses outstanding vision, hockey sense, and follows plays exceedingly well. Nieto has demonstrated that he can be responsible defensively and is active in all three zones.
As great as Nieto is in scoring goals, his playmaking skills are equally as great. He has really nice hands, which can be seen in his superb passing ability, and his stick work is also quite good. Nieto has a good nose for the net and is not afraid to go into the tough areas to make plays. He possesses a very good shot with a quick release.
Perhaps the only glaring weakness to Nieto’s game is his physical play. While he does play with a bit of edge, Nieto could stand to be more involved physically and it is something that he readily admits.
"I need to improve the physical side of my game. I think I can throw my body around more than I do."
So how does Nieto describe himself?
"I would describe myself as a good two-way player that can create offense as well as being reliable in his own end. I think my defensive game is one area that many people don’t know about because they look at me as an offensive player and overlook my defensive side. So I try to make that a key part to my game."
As a kid growing up Southern California, Nieto enjoyed watching former University of Maine star Paul Kariya with the Anaheim Ducks. Today, he lists another former collegiate standout as his favorite NHL player and one whose style he patterns his after.
"When I was growing up, I was a big Paul Kariya fan. My favorite player now is Jonathan Toews. I try to model my game after his because his play in all three zones is really good and that’s what I try to do in my game."
Nieto is projected to be a mid-first round selection in the 2011 NHL Draft. He appears on Central Scouting’s "A" List of NCAA players to watch and is currently ranked 20th on the ISS Top 30 for December.