Top NHL Draft Prospect Frank Nazar Ready for the Next Step

Soft-spoken, polite, and respectful are all characteristics that could be used to describe Frank Nazar off the ice. However, beneath that exterior, there is also an intensity and focus that can’t be ignored.  

As a member of the United States National Training and Development Program (USNTDP), Nazar is no stranger to attention. Being projected as high as a top-10 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft will also help with that. In an exclusive interview with Habs Unfiltered, a Hockey Writers affiliated podcast, he candidly answered questions about his influences, his style of play, his choice to play NCAA next season, and even which NHL club could be a good fit for him.

His origin story doesn’t involve being the son of a former NHL player, he is a regular kid, from a middle-class family. He began his love of the game as most kids do, by watching the game. 

“My dad used to own a parking garage in downtown Detroit. He became a huge Wings fan from that. One day I walked into the room when he was watching a wings game, I was intrigued.”

Frank Nazar

This has led to a top NHL prospect and a key piece of Team USA’s 2022 World Junior Championships Under 18 (WJC U18) silver medal squad. Teaming up with Logan Cooley to provide the Americans a one-two punch up the middle he scored three goals and nine points in only six games.

The basis of his games comes from his most talked-about attribute, his skating. He has excellent speed and what edgework that seems to be effortless. This is a skill that came naturally to the 18-year-old American forward. “Dad signed me up for a learn to skate, and my friends from school were doing it too. They go onto the ice and they were holding the boards, and then I got on the ice and then I’m just skating around the rink. After the first day, they told me I didn’t need to come back”.

Frank Nazar USNTDP
Frank Nazar, USNTDP (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

His opposition has trouble slowing him down. He uses his skating to his advantage over all 200 feet of the ice. He can keep pace, and get into defensively strong positions quickly. He uses this skill to make him a dangerous weapon in transition. He pairs his ability to play at top speed with strong offensive instincts, using his passing to feed an open teammate for a or to use an accurate shot to finish the play himself.

Development

Nazar plays an incredibly steady game, which will lead him to the NHL in short order. He credits joining the USNTDP for helping him to develop his game. In recent seasons, the program has steadily produced first-round-caliber talent, and the 2022 crop, including Nazar, is no exception. What is it about the program that makes it so effective? There is no secret formula according to Nazar:

“It was almost a joke in practices. Our coach would say that there’s nothing easy there’s no formula in the water. It’s just how you come in and go at things….they put a big emphasis on that we’re representing our country and how we act and how we play. Each guy shows up every day”

Nazar’s high level work-ethic and calm demeanor help in his development. Not allowing himself to get affected emotionally within a game plays a big part in his ability to play at such a high pace consistently. At the high points, he avoids being a showboat, preferring to keep his celebrations subdued. “I’ve just kinda always been that way. I’m not the instigator type of guy. I’m not going to acknowledge you, I’m not going to chirp…I feel like, why give fuel to their fire?” Even when a play doesn’t develop as planned or if his opponent makes a strong defensive stop on him, he returns to the bench and refocuses on himself. That is a skill set that cannot be taught. It is also why expectations for Nazar are he is to grow into a top-six offensive player in the NHL.

Related: THW 2022 NHL Draft Guide

That fast-paced style fits well within the new NHL. The contending teams all rely on skilled players that can play at a high pace, but also make decisions and complete plays at that speed. Nazar admitted,  “I like to play a fast, high-paced game. I like rotating around the positions, being able to play quick in each zone”. That style also makes sense when the players he emulates are factored in.

“Two guys that I like to watch and that’s (Patrice) Bergeron and (Brayden) Point. And the Point aspect is just more of that it’s my playing style and kinda like how I am as a player. And the Bergeron aspect is, is I’m kinda new to the center. I haven’t been playing it that long, about two years now, and he’s the guy I look to and get better at the position and learn the routings”

Not being a natural center may be a reason why he hovers at 10th, or slightly behind 10 in most NHL Draft rankings. That doesn’t take away from his game, instead, it demonstrates his advanced hockey IQ.  Playing in a top-six role in 80 games with the USNTDP, he scored 43 goals, 62 assists, and 105 points. All in a position he is still learning to master.

University vs OHL

Nazar faced a choice many players his age in the USA do, to choose to play for a major junior team in Canada, or, to play in the NCAA. In his case, he had to decide between the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) who chose him in the fifth round, and several university offers.“London is a great organization. But, it’s more the schooling part of it. I like school. I also have a coach in Michigan, Brandon Naurato, who I grew up skating with. I think he’s a great coach and he’s going to help me get better. Not that London wouldn’t, but I just that Michigan right now is the spot that I want to go to”.

Frank Nazar USNTDP
Frank Nazar, USNTDP (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Like most American kids, he grew up with the NCAA being top of mind, so it comes as no surprise that he chose to commit to the University of Michigan. No doubt aided by the fact that they have developed some of the NHL’s top prospects recently, led by the 2021 first-overall pick, Owen Power. Also, the campus is just over a one-hour drive from his home. In his case

NHL Draft

Nazar is a sure-fire bet to be selected in the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft. For this reason, he was interviewed by many teams. As most young players do, he looked at teams where he felt he had the best odds of cracking the lineup and fitting in:

“I feel that Pittsburgh would be a good spot for me. I feel I can just go in there and just help the team. There are a lot of older guys leaving so I think that’s a place I’d really like to play at. I just feel they have a great organization there.”

There is also a possibility that a team trades up to select him, and the Montreal Canadiens are one team that have the assets to do so.  If that were to happen, he would get a crash course on one of the most rabid fanbases in the NHL, when asked if he is prepared for the glare of the media spotlight in that market he stated: “I’m not really too much of an outgoing person, I guess I’m kind of an introvert. But I’ll definitely be ready and give people some good answers and have fun with it”.

Nazar has the skills to become a top-6 forward in the NHL. He may even become a first-line player in a few years. He has the awareness that he will be required to play many roles, and joining one of the NCAA’s top hockey programs will only help to reinforce that. He is a talented hockey player, who can play a fast-paced style, which will endear him to the scouts. He also has a genuine personality that will endear him to the fans. But most of all, he has a work ethic and no-nonsense intensity that will endear him to his coaches. 


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