Editor's note: This article is part of an ongoing series in which Insider Kevin Kurz will highlight a different Sharks player every day leading up to the start of NHL training camp.
Name/Position: Matt Nieto, right wing
Contract status: Signed through 2015-16 ($759,167 cap hit)
2013-14 year in review: After preseason injuries to Raffi Torres and Adam Burish, Matt Nieto took advantage of the open roster spots by claiming his place on the opening night roster. In 66 games, Nieto posted 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points and a -4 rating. His rookie season came with its typical highs and lows, including a short stint in AHL Worcester. He added two goals and three assists in seven playoff games vs. Los Angeles.
2014-15 outlook: One game last season stands out for me when it comes to Nieto, and he didn’t even record a point. On Oct. 26 in Montreal, Nieto fired seven shots on goal against the Canadiens in the Sharks’ 2-0 win, flying up and down the Bell Centre surface utilizing his biggest asset – his speed. In just 14:33 of ice time he was the best player in the game, and even more impressively he was doing it with a bum hand that forced him to miss the next two games.
If anything, the performance offered a glimpse into what Nieto can do when he’s firing on all cylinders. After a successful rookie year, the Sharks can probably expect more performances like that in 2014-15 as Nieto gets set to begin his first training camp as a full-time NHL player. At this point, the most likely starting position for Nieto is on the right wing of Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau, where he skated in the playoffs.
Although he was listed at five-foot-11 and 190 pounds last season those numbers seem generous, and Nieto could probably stand to put on a few pounds – but not too many that it would slow him down. Nieto is already strong on his skates, but he seemed to get fatigued at times last season, so bringing his best game on a more frequent basis should be his focus. Mastering some of the defensive aspects of the game is also paramount.
Although his ceiling is not quite as high as a guy like Tomas Hertl, Nieto has a chance this season to establish himself as a top six NHL forward. He’ll be given every opportunity to do so by the coaching staff.