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It’s Matt Nieto’s turn to get his final report card from the BSN staff. Let’s get to it:
Matt Nieto was the sixth-leading goal scorer on the Avalanche in 2017-18, with 15. That might be a surprise to some people, but it’s fact. Those 15 goals represent a career high for the native of Long Beach, Calif. It was the third season of his career that he achieved double figures in goals.
Those are nice numbers for a guy who I barely noticed the first few games of his season. After a bad opening-night game against the Rangers in which he took three separate minor penalties and was a healthy scratch the next couple of games. He didn’t return to the lineup until Oct. 13 against Anaheim, played another game the next night in Dallas and then was a healthy scratch again until Oct. 24 against the Stars at the Pepsi Center.
That’s when Nieto had his coming out party. He scored a hat trick in the Avs’ easy win over the Stars and, besides missing a few games with injuries, pretty much became an everyday performer from there. He would not score his next goal, however, for another 16 games. Right around early-to-mid December, however, he started to chip in more consistently with the puck. In late February-early March, he scored goals in three consecutive games. In the playoffs, he produced three points (all assists) in six games.
Nieto helps out on the penalty kill and generally is a pretty good fundamental player. For example, he knows he to seal the wall on the forecheck, keeping pucks in with his body, often deflecting them for quick little turnovers in the offensive end. He’s not a flashy player, is a bit on the smaller side (5-11, 190) and doesn’t skate with the puck a lot. It will be an interesting question what kind of role he’ll have moving forward.
It’s gotta be that Oct. 24 hat trick against the Stars, wouldn’t you say? He had been getting scratched to that point, so this was a big response from him and it definitely helped establish a more regular role after that.
Nieto’s contract will be up July 1. He’s a restricted free agent. He made $1 million with the Avs last season. What should his new deal be? Good question. I’m not sure I have a real good feel either way. Some guys who score 15 goals in this league get double or triple that in salary. But do the Avs really want to offer him much in the way of a longer-term deal, given that his overall production has never surpassed 27 points in a season? On the other hand, he’s only 25 and seems to have found a pretty decent role on the team.
I think it’ll be very interesting, however the contract talks shake out.
There are things to like about Nieto’s game. He’s a pretty dogged forechecker and pretty good at chipping-tipping-deflecting pucks around the net. For me, the problems are that he doesn’t skate with the puck a whole lot, and his lack of size means he can get eliminated off the puck a little too easy when he does have it. Those 15 goals feel like they’re a bit of an outlier. But as a depth guy, a guy who chips in now and again and plays a pretty sound fundamental game, I think he still adds value.