While last season ended very poorly for the San Jose Sharks, there were a few highlights for NorCal’s team. Obviously the play of Tomas Hertl gave fans hope that a new crop of young talent will be led by the skilled Czech, but Hertl wasn’t the only rookie making waves for the Sharks. California native Matt Nieto earned a spot out of camp and became a mainstay for the team by the time the calendar flipped to 2014.
The Long Beach native bolted California in 2007 to play high school hockey at Salisbury Prep in Connecticut before joining the US National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2008. From Team USA Nieto joined the Boston University Terriers and played for Jack Parker’s squad for 3 seasons. After playing less than a dozen games in the AHL, Nieto joined the Sharks out of camp this past season.
Nieto’s speed and raw talent were evident at all time as he buzzed around the ice creating scoring chances for himself and his teammates. Nieto’s 24 points were solid, but his play in the playoffs is where he showed how good he can be. Despite the Sharks’ epic collapse against the Los Angeles Kings, Nieto shined recording five points in the seven games as his hometown team beat the Sharks in heartbreaking fashion.
Look for Nieto to register 20-25 goals next year and bring his game breaking speed to new levels as he wreaks havoc on opposing defenders. As the old guard of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau get fazed out Nieto and Hertl will take on bigger roles and showcase their amazing abilities while gradually becoming the principal offensive weapons. With Brent Burns moving back to defense the onus will be on the young forwards to deliver and offset Burns’ productivity up front.
The Sharks are obviously a team in transition, but having an amazing young forward like Nieto surely helps that transition. Nieto has been hearing about the Kings’ success all summer and he will be motivated like never before. The Sharks will surely be happy to have the improved, extra-motivated youngster in their lineup.