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Devils Simon Nemec Mostly Strong in NHL Debut

Simon Nemec impressed in his NHL debut despite a blunder or two and an embarrassing effort from the Devils.

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Devils Simon Nemec Mostly Strong in NHL Debut
(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

New Jersey Devils defenseman Simon Nemec showed poise and confidence in his NHL debut. 

The No.1 prospect in New Jersey’s system has been oozing confidence since he was drafted by the Devils second overall in the 2022 NHL Draft. On Friday, he didn’t feel any jitters except for maybe one moment. 

“Maybe just in the rookie lap,” Nemec answered when asked if he was nervous at all. 

Putting aside an embarrassing loss to the San Jose Sharks last night, Nemec played quite well in his first game. 

The Devils were forced to call up their top prospect in lieu of losing star defenseman Dougie Hamilton to surgery on his left pectoral and Brendan Smith to suspension following Thursday night’s tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Nemec has been quite the force down in the American Hockey League Scoring eight points (two goals and six assists) in 13 games this season with the Utica Comets.  The 19-year-old Slovakian defenseman had plenty of success last season as well, setting the AHL record for goals by a teenage defenseman (12) en route to a 34-point season in 65 games. As a result, Nemec was named to the AHL Top Prospect Team after the season.

Nemec made a significant impression in his first two training camps and preseasons as well. In fact, it was a hard enough impression that he made it to the final round of cuts, and the Devils’ brass considered keeping him from the get-go. Nemec stated this fall he felt he proved everything he needed to in order to remain in the NHL.

However, now the Devils require his services and this could be just the beginning of a very promising career. 

He wasn’t perfect. It’s likely why Nemec didn’t start the season with New Jersey as head coach Lindy Ruff expressed reservations about having two rookies on the blue line. Although, Luke Hughes plays mostly like a veteran. He’s been quite impressive this season, too.

On Nemec’s first shift of his career, he was caught out of position and the Sharks took advantage scoring a goal on the stick of Jacob MacDonald.

That wasn’t the only one.

The rookie defenseman pinched too high in the offensive zone during the second period which resulted in Anthony Duclair’’s second goal of the game.

The fact of the matter is rookie mistakes are going to happen as they did on Friday night. However, he handled it with a veteran’s mindset. 

“I try not to think about it,” Nemec said about being on the ice for a couple of Sharks goals. “It’s hockey, mistakes happen.”

For every goal against he was a factor in allowing, Nemec contributed to one for the Devils. The rookie defenseman collected his first NHL point, a primary assist on the power play. He later collected another, a secondary assist on a goal by Ondrej Palat.

Nemec’s poise was very apparent in the process. He wasn’t afraid to get physical, he skated pucks well in transition, even called for it a bunch when it was off his stick, and passed with confidence. 

Nemec’s confidence was certainly noticeable to his teammates.

“He played well,” Timo Meier said in his return to the lineup. “You know, real confident with the puck and made some really nice plays. It’s nice to see him out there and making plays, it’s really nice.”

According to Ruff, Nemec’s confidence looked beyond his NHL experience.

“I think there’s there’s a level (of confidence) that you need here and there’s a level that you need in American League,” Ruff explained. “I think if the first game was an indication (of his career ahead), he handled the game well. Nemec stayed in a position that didn’t give up a lot. You gotta be able to defend first, so I thought for his first game, I thought he handled well.”

According to Natural Stat Trick, Nemec finished the night with an elite 67.94 xGF% creating a positive 14-6 chance differential in the process of collecting two points on three shots in 22:37 of play.

Nemec’s two points made him the first Slovak player to register two points in his NHL debut. He also became the third teenage defenseman in franchise history to record a point in their NHL debut, joining Scott Niedermayer (1991-92) and Ken Danyeko (1983-84).

With Hamilton out indefinitely, it’s the perfect opportunity for Nemec to slide into the lineup. He brings a similar game to the Devils’ No.1 defenseman offensively. In fact, he may become a smidge better than Hamilton defensively.

It was an impressive start to Nemec’s NHL career. You can see a path where Nemec’s confidence, although high already, continues to grow and he never looks back from here.

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