Learning to love Matt Nieto

Matt Nieto is a much maligned member of the San Jose Sharks. That's dumb as heck.

Long Beach native Matt Nieto has had a rough go of it on this website lately, the way that many third-line type players often do. The alternate title to this post could be "learning to love the fringey third liner," but Nieto is a lot more lovable than that. Just look at those eyebrows.

He finished with 27 points last season, good enough for eighth on the Sharks. 10 of those tallies come from finding the back of the net, matching the number he scored in his rookie season in which he played 66 games. Let's look at Nieto's HERO chart (you knew this was coming).

You'd like to see him score a bit more, but his first assist numbers are strong and his impact on creating shots is excellent. Even with defensive work that could, uh, use some work, his possession numbers are very positive. Taking a look at his goals from last season...

About half of these are the definition of poacher goals (hello empty netters!) and obviously spending time on a line with Patrick Marleau will do wonders to inflate your offensive stats. Or...normally, it would. Marleau didn't play particularly well last season, at least not by his lofty standards, which might explain Nieto's downtick in counting stats.

Nieto and Marleau played 374:36 5v5 together last season (Nieto played 536:41 total 5v5) and while together posted a goals-for percentage of just 43 percent and a corsi-for percentage of 51.8 percent. So perhaps they were a bit unlucky not to do better; what's interesting is that Nieto's corsi-for percentage was actually better when not playing with Marleau. He notched a corsi-for of 53.7 percent to go with a woeful goals-for percentage of 38 percent.

The Long Beach Native's possession numbers were also slightly better when apart from Logan Couture (51.7 CF% with compared to 53.5 apart). Of his top three teammates (Brent Burns and Justin Braun round out the top four), Burns is the only one with whom Nieto had better possession numbers with (54.2) than he did without (51.9).

What's there to learn from all this? Nieto's possession numbers may not always translate into goal scoring, but he provides a valuable service to the Sharks by helping control play when he's on the ice. Nieto, to me, is the classic case of a guy who gets skewered for not scoring enough by fans not looking closely enough at the numbers.

Or maybe people hate him because he's from southern California. And that's perfectly fair. Gross.