Simon Nemec will battle fellow Eastern European David Jiricek for status as the top defenseman of the 2022 NHL draft. Both are two-way right-shot defensemen who are playing professional hockey in their home country. And, in an entirely useless bit of trivia, both have a younger brother named Adam. Both are excellent prospects and which of the two you prefer depends on what qualities you value in a defensemen - Jiricek is bigger and nastier, while Nemec has better production and is a better skater - and also how much risk you’re willing to take with a high first round pick (Jiricek missed a chunk of time after a knee injury that required surgery). Chances are the teams that pick these two players will end up happy either way. Today, we take a look at Simon Nemec.
Who is Simon Nemec?
If you are even a casual follower of the 2022 NHL draft class you have probably heard Simon Nemec’s name. He is one of two top prospects from Slovakia (Slafkovsky being the other one) and debatably the top defenseman in this year’s crop of draft eligible players. Nemec is a 6’1” 192 lb right-shot defenseman playing professional hockey for HK Nitra in the Slovakian league. Nemec was born on February 15th, 2004 in Liptovsky Miulas, Slovakia, putting him near the middle of the pack in terms of age for this draft class. Below you can see his counting stats via Elite Prospects.
A few things stood out to me here. One, Nemec has played professional hockey since his 16 year-old season. Now, Slovakia isn’t exactly a top-tier professional league, but being asked to play against men at 16 is impressive for anyone, particularly as a defensemen. Like many top prospects, Nemec has a history of playing for his national team, making appearances at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, the abbreviated World Junior Championship, along with the Olympics and World Championships. Needless to say it’s been a busy year for him. The next thing that stands out is that Nemec had quite the playoffs for himself this year. Many European prospects who play professional hockey in their draft years will get a handful of games and are really just there for the experience. They aren’t often expected to play a major role and it’s a sign of their potential that they are even on the roster. However, taken alongside his strong regular season production, Nemec’s nearly point-per-game playoff production indicates someone who wasn’t just happy to be there, but was one of the main drivers of his team. He didn’t stop there however, Nemec went on to have a standout performance at the World Championships, which is a clear step up from the Slovakian league in terms of professional talent.
So what is next for the standout Slovakian? According to Elite Prospects, Nemec is not under contract for next season, and apparently wants to play in North America next season, either in the AHL or NHL, per Mike Morreale. From this same post, you can really get a sense of how modest and humble Nemec is: “I think I’m the best defenseman in this draft,” (don’t take my sarcasm here too seriously. I’m not criticizing him, I just found it amusing).
Nemec’s production in his draft year is worthy of a little extra attention. He has put together arguably the strongest statistical profile of any player in this draft class when adjusted for position and league. Given that this year is seen as a below average ($) draft class, that may not be as impressive as it would be in another year, but it is still very noteworthy. If you are trying to tell the story of Nemec, I think it is important to discuss just how impressive his season was from a statistical standpoint.
Here's a look at Nemec vs. Quinn Hughes (one of the 13 in the ball park). Hughes' equivalency in his D-1 and DY is in the 99.5th percentile for the past 30 years. And Nemec's equivalency is ~35% higher than Hughes each year. Nutty stuff. pic.twitter.com/KUA8yZqFxe— Byron Bader (@ByronMBader) June 3, 2022
While models are far from a guarantee of success (it literally says probability right in the graphic) they help to add some additional context. And whenever you see something at either extreme it is noteworthy in my mind.
Nemec is a player without many clear weaknesses. His production may lead some to believe that Nemec is all offense, but this is not the case at all. Nemec is seen as a strong player in all 3 zones thanks to great vision, skating, and puck skills and for these reasons he is one of the highest rated players in the 2022 NHL draft class and in the realm of possibilities for the Devils 2nd overall pick.
Where is Simon Nemec Ranked?
- #3 - NHL Central Scouting (EU skaters) Final Ranking
- #9 - TSN Bob McKenzie Midseason Rankings
- #5 - TSN Craig Button May Rankings
- #6 - Elite Prospects May Rankings
- #2 - The Athletic ($) Scott Wheeler Final Rankings
- #5 - The Athletic ($) Corey Pronman May Rankings
- #11 - Will Scouch April Rankings
- #3 - FC Hockey Spring Ranking
- #2 - McKeen’s hockey ($) Midseason Ranking
- #3 - Recruit Scouting March 2022 Ranking
- #2 - Dobber Prospects April Rankings
- #9 - Smaht Scouting Final 2022 NHL Draft Rankings
- #5 - Sportsnet Sam Cosentino April Draft Rankings
As you can see, Nemec is almost guaranteed to be a top-10 pick. Nine of the 13 rankings have him going in the top 5 and only Will Scouch has Nemec going outside the top 10. Three rankings have him as the 2nd best player in this draft class so, as I mentioned above, the Devils selecting him at second overall certainly would not be a reach. If you believe, as I do, that the Devils should go best player available regardless of positional need, he is on your shortlist.
What Others Say about Simon Nemec
As one of the top players in this year’s class, there is a ton written about Nemec. And as is the norm for these scouting reports, you will often find contradictory reports in various places regarding weaknesses and strengths. Sifting through all of this, if you want a quick and dirty picture of what the scouting consensus is on Nemec, it’s that he is an intelligent mobile blue-liner who can play in any facet of the game. He isn’t a dynamic player like Makar or Josi, but he has great puck skills and can absolutely run a power-play. On the other side of things he uses his hockey IQ and skating to defend effectively, anticipate plays, and transition the puck back the other way, either with a great pass or simply using his feet. Going back to my point about disagreements between different sources, it is tough to find many consistent criticisms of Nemec’s game. He needs to improve his shot and he isn’t a very physical player. If he ends up being an elite NHL player it likely will be more due to his intelligence rather than due to physical tools. The vast majority of the sources I looked at view Nemec as a top-pairing defensemen, likely in a #2 role.
Now I will break things down a little more in depth.
Smaht Scouting had probably the most in-depth look at Nemec of any of the resources I used. This overview, by Josh Tressler, was more critical of Nemec than most others I read, and this is reflected in Nemec’s relatively lower ranking by the website. That said, while Tressler was critical of Nemec’s decision making offensively at times and isn’t as high on his puck-handling as most, he had plenty of praise for Nemec’s offensive zone work.
When you watch Nemec, you notice just how dominant he is on the offensive blue-line. Nemec does a good job of toeing the line on the power play. He completes soft swift passes when distributing the puck at 5v5 or on the power play. Nemec uses deception to his advantage when distributing the puck. He likes to be deceptive and use body language.
Eetu Siltanen from Dobber Prospects echoed this sentiment but with more confidence in Nemec’s puck skills.
Nemec doesn’t hesitate to activate and join the rush when he sees an opportunity, either. He shows off his great puck skills when carrying it up the ice in transition, and when he controls the offensive blue line.
I did not get a good feel for Nemec’s shot. Siltanen noted that it lacks power but that Nemec is good at finding the net. On the other hand, Tressler notes that he has an effective one-timer and wrist shot but needs to improve his accuracy. Peter Baracchini, from The Hockey Writers, would likely disagree with both of them:
He also has a very great point shot as he has tremendous power.
My takeaway from this is that he likely has an average shot and struggles with consistency, but that’s an assumption based on a hypothesis that these writers happened to catch Nemec on different nights.
Once again, Smaht Scouting is somewhat critical of Nemec with regards to his transitional play. Tressler remarks that Nemec’s processing speed isn’t the greatest and notes that he sometimes skates right into opposing pressure. On the other hand, he praises the Slovak’s ability to read the play when defending in transition and can defend effectively man-on-man.
From what little of it isn’t behind a paywall, Nemec’s Future Considerations profile is positive here, noting that his vision and awareness really shines when breaking out of his own zone. Siltanen’s profile on Dobber Prospects is in agreement with this:
He is very effective at leading the breakout, utilizing his mobility to escape pressure and his vision to make an accurate first pass. Nemec doesn’t hesitate to activate and join the rush when he sees an opportunity, either. He shows off his great puck skills when carrying it up the ice in transition [...]
Will Scouch’s comments on Nemec are closer to what is seen on Smaht Scouting and is critical Scouch isn’t high on his ability to start the transition, calling his breakout passes a “work in progress”. That leaves us with another area where you are left with a different impression of the player depending on where you look and probably based on which games of his you saw.
As I mentioned in the first paragraph in this section, the majority opinion leans towards Simon Nemec being a quality defender despite not being overly large or physical.
Smaht Scouting’s profile praises Nemec’s gap control, defensive awareness and ability to read the play, as well as his ability to retrieve pucks during board battles. In agreement are both Wheeler and Pronman of the Athletic (see links above), and Siltanen of Dobber Prospects in all praising Nemec’s mature defensive game.
Will Scouch’s opinion Diverges here, and he refers to Nemec as a passive defender.
Overall it seems skating is a strength of Nemec’s game. Josh Tressler is very detailed in his analysis of the Slovak’s skating and it all appears to be positive. Future Considerations calls him an “incredibly smooth skater” and Wheeler, of the Athletic praises his edge-work and 4-way mobility. Again I find that Will Scouch is divergent here and has concerns with projecting Nemec’s mobility to the next level.
A Little Video
There is a decent amount out there on Nemec.
Here we have a review of a game he played back at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup last summer by Elite Prospects. There wasn’t much from a highlight perspective but David St. Louis does a good job breaking down his analysis shift-by-shift. I really enjoyed seeing how someone breaks down the game from a scouting perspective so I would recommend checking this out.
Wolf Hockey has a more recent video scouting report on Nemec, using clips to support his analysis before transitioning into more highlights. This definitely shows more of the offensive flair to Nemec as opposed to the first video. Nemec certainly isn’t shy about joining the rush.
An Opinion of Sorts
Nemec, like a lot of defensemen, isn’t someone who wows you with his highlight package. Particularly for someone who relies on hockey sense and intelligence this is unsurprising, so while the highlight packages certainly aren’t going to blow you away like a Rasmus Dahlin or even Luke Hughes, that doesn’t mean Nemec isn’t an excellent defenseman. As for whether or not I would want the Devils to take Nemec, that is a tough question to answer. It will obviously depend on who is available when the Devils make their selection. He is clearly one of the best players in this draft and likely has a long NHL future, that said, I’m not blown away by anything I am reading or seeing and came away with the impression that Nemec is just very good at everything. I get a little nervous about his standout characteristic being hockey sense because there’s always going to be a question of how well he keeps up with the pace of the game at higher levels. Not that I think that will limit him from reaching the NHL but I could see a scenario where he is just a really solid player, but just doesn’t dominate the way he is able to at lower levels. For a top-10 pick, you really want more than that. Players have overcome much greater flaws than this however, and I don’t know how much of my opinion is simply feeling rather than based on the evidence. I think part of the issue is that I get some slight Ty Smith vibes from Nemec (although Nemec is bigger) and that scares me. Certainly, putting my own bias aside and looking at the totality of the evidence, I think Nemec is a very reasonable selection for the Devils if they go that route with their 1st round pick, but I don’t think he’d be my selection.
What do you think of Simon Nemec? Do you think the Devils should take him at 2nd overall? Would you feel different if the Devils decided to trade down? Would you prefer him over Jiricek if the Devils do go for a defenseman? Please leave your thoughts below and thank you for reading.