The New Jersey Devils will be announcing their 2022-23 training camp roster in the coming days, and while there could be a couple of surprises on it, most of the names will be ones that we fans expect. That includes their most recent second overall pick Simon Nemec, who will be coming in fresh off of the Prospects Challenge. While the first period of the first game was a bit of an adjustment, Nemec began to look more comfortable as the tournament progressed. As a highly touted prospect, his inclusion in the training camp roster is a no brainer.
Nemec faces an uphill battle to make the main roster as a rookie though, as the Devils do have at least three right-handed defenders expected to slot in above him. Dougie Hamilton and Damon Severson both return, more than likely on the top two pairs, while John Marino joined the team this summer in a trade and will probably slot in on the third pair at least to start. While the left side is a bit thinner (I’m hopeful someone earns a spot in camp, as I’m not sold on Brendan Smith starting on the third pair), I don’t think starting Nemec’s career on his off side or as the seventh defender is best for his progression.
No, for Nemec to make the team, he’s going to have to seize a spot out of camp, and either push another defender (maybe Marino or Severdson) to their off side, or displace one of them into the seventh defender role, as unlikely as that seems. Experience is working against Nemec here, even though he has spent time playing in a men’s league overseas; there’s three seasoned NHLers playing the same side as him, meaning more than likely he’s blocked this season. Additionally, Nemec is probably still getting used to the different size of North American ice. While it’s not to say he can’t quickly make said adjustment, it’ll probably be easier for him to do so in the AHL while hopefully dominating lesser competition.
In watching the Prospects Challenge, Nemec, as many noted online (and to some extent Chico Resch even discussed it on the broadcast) did not have the best first period. As the first game went on and he continued into the second game, he grew more comfortable and started to show off the skills that allowed him to rise to being drafted second overall. His skills did, however, still need some fine tuning and that could be due to a variety of factors. With that in mind I expect him to come in and have a strong training camp, and I think him getting to play with some more experienced NHL talent might even allow him to showcase more of his skills than the prospect tournament did.
Even if Nemec blows people away in camp, more likely than not he starts the season in Utica because of those ahead of him. The Devils under Lindy Ruff have been hesitant to play defenders on their off-hand side, usually only doing so when injuries have arisen. I fully expect that to continue to be the case in 2022-23. As such, Nemec could appear in New Jersey, but I don’t see it happening unless the depth chart is depleted and the Devils are still in a spot to be competitive.
Final verdict on this from me: Simon Nemec begins the 2022-23 season in the AHL. Whether or not we see him at all at the NHL level will depend on injuries and where the Devils are in the standings when the trade deadline arrives. The absolute only way he makes the roster is if at least two players ahead of him on the depth chart go down to injuries, and he’s needed to play in a reduced role.
Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on Simon Nemec’s chances of being on the opening night roster; do you think he defies the odds and pulls it off? Do you think there’s just too much depth in front of him? Would you want to push him or someone else to their off-hand side if Nemec proves to be one of the six best defenders on the team? Do you think he starts in the AHL even if he is one of the best six? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!