Devils Bet on Nemec’s Upside at 2nd Overall

Well, last night was quite the ride at the NHL Draft. The Montreal Canadiens shocked the world (or maybe they didn’t?) by selecting Juraj Slafkovsky with the first overall pick. That left Shane Wright available to the New Jersey Devils with the second overall pick, but the surprises didn’t stop there. With the selection, they drafted fellow Slovak Šimon Nemec, arguably the top-ranked defenseman in the 2022 draft, over Wright and Logan Cooley. 

Morning Skate newsletter Click To Subscribe

Nemec finished the 2021-22 season with 26 points in 39 games for HK Nitra in the Tipos Extraliga (Slovakia). He also added an impressive five goals and 17 points in 19 playoff games. The Devils went a bit off the board in selecting Nemec, especially with Wright and Cooley available. But while one of those players probably should’ve been the pick, they still got a high upside prospect in Nemec, who has plenty of potential to pay off in the future. 

Nemec’s Strengths and Weaknesses

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to most to read that Nemec’s offensive upside and makeup are what made him a top prospect in the 2022 draft. The first thing that stands out about him is his puck-carrying ability. When he has the puck on his stick, he flies through the neutral zone and is very good at entering the offensive zone with puck possession. 

To do that, you need to be a good skater, and Nemec has that. It’s hard to gauge exactly how good his skating is because the Tipos Extraliga is not great. He was a step above most players he played against, even as a 17-18-year-old, but his skating does appear at least above NHL average. With that said, he probably needs to get even quicker before becoming a regular in the NHL to be an elite puck carrier. That’ll come as he adds more strength, which he also needs to do over the next year or two. 

Simon Nemec New Jersey Devils 2022 Draft
New Jersey Devils 2022 draft pick Simon Nemec (Photo by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Once Nemec enters the offensive zone, that’s where things can get fun. He’s not a big-time shooter, but he’s a crafty playmaker and gets pucks to high-danger areas at a pretty good rate, as you’ll see in Will Scouch’s video at the end of this article. He can also create time and space for scoring chances with the puck on his stick because of his impressive puck skills. 

Related: Simon Nemec — 2022 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

Now defensively is where things get interesting. The biggest thing I noticed in Scouch’s video and other clips I could find is Nemec struggles to defend the rush. His rush defense is less than ideal, mostly because his positioning and gap control are not good. But the good thing with that is it’s correctable; you can coach a player to fix his gap control and positioning. That’s the case with some of his passive defense play too. He’ll need to be a more aggressive defender in the NHL, or it might get ugly out there quickly; adding strength should also help in this regard, in addition to coaching it out of him. 

What Others Are Saying About Nemec

“Nemec is a very well-rounded defenseman. His puck game is great. He has the high-end brain to make a lot of tough plays often. Nemec can hit seams, make plays under pressure and makes a great outlet pass. He also shows individual skill which, when combined with good speed, allows him to be dangerous in transition too. Defensively he’s solid due to his skating, compete and brain, even though he’s not imposing physically and can be trusted with tough responsibilities. Nemec projects as a top-pair defenseman.” – Corey Pronman, The Athletic (From ‘2022 NHL Draft prospects: Juraj Slafkovsky leads Corey Pronman’s final ranking,’ The Athletic – 7/5/2022)

It’s worth noting that Pronman projects Nemec as a top-of-the-lineup player. Now for Cam Robinson of Elite Prospects: 

“Has two-plus years of experience playing in the top men’s league in Slovakia, but also the benefit of two worlds and an Olympics, and he’s never looked out of place.” – Sam Cosentino, Sportsnet.

Making Sense of Nemec’s NHLe

If you were on Twitter last night when and after the Devils made the pick, you likely saw some graphics that showed Nemec’s NHLe, which paints a very impressive picture of him. Before embedding a tweet showing what I mean, NHLe (NHL equivalency) is a metric that measures how a player playing in a foreign league like the Tipos Extraliga would perform in the NHL based on their counting totals. Going off Byron Bader’s model, Nemec’s NHLe gives him a 95 percent chance of becoming an NHLer and a 56 percent chance of becoming a star: 

I think it’s important to note that NHLe is not the be-all, end-all for prospect evaluation. It’s a useful tool, but it’s only part of the process. For example, NHLe will not account for the flaws in Nemec’s defensive game. It’s based on points, so there’s no way for it to pick up on that. That’s why you should take it with a grain of salt, especially when evaluating defensemen. 

Sign up for our regular 'Devils Newsletter' for all the latest.

However, it’s hard to ignore what Nemec did as a teenager in a pro league. Sure, the Tipos Extraliga might be one of the weaker leagues in Europe. But Los Angeles Kings 2021 draft pick Brandt Clarke played in that league after the OHL canceled its 2020-21 season due to COVID. His development has gone quite well since then, as he was one of the best defensemen in the OHL this past season. 

Bader’s model is not the only NHLe model that looks favorably on Nemec as well. Patrick Bacon’s (TopDownHockey) model is also quite high on Nemec, even more so than Bader’s: 

Simon Nemec
Simon Nemec’s prospect card based on Patrick Bacon’s (TopDownHockey) NHLe model

This isn’t to say Nemec is guaranteed to turn into a star. It’s more that he has the potential to turn into one because of his offensive makeup, especially if his defensive flaws get corrected with proper development. And given the Devils’ style of play and how they’ve built their roster, I see the fit with Nemec. They like to play off the rush. To do so effectively, you need defensemen who can carry the puck through the neutral zone efficiently, and that’s one of the best parts of Nemec’s game. He has things to work on, specifically defensively. There’s no question about it. But an offensive defenseman who can rush the puck, I get the pick, even though I may not agree with it in that spot, given Cooley and Wright were available. 

Time will tell what the Devils get out of Nemec. For me, he’s a very high upside prospect. He might not turn into a star, but he has good odds at the moment, and his odds of at least becoming an NHLer are even better. Nemec said he plans to come to North America for the 2022-23 season. Because he’s a European prospect, he’d be eligible to play for the Utica Comets in the AHL next season. He might not play in the NHL right away, but there’s certainly potential for the pick to pay off down the road in the not-too-distant future. 

Šimon Nemec Video