Simon Nemec Thrives on Elite Hockey Sense | PROSPECT WATCH – New Jersey Devils

Simon Nemec Thrives on Elite Hockey Sense | PROSPECT WATCH – New Jersey Devils

Sometimes it’s the simple comments that are the most telling.
Last summer, the Devils had just selected Simon Nemec second overall and the club’s chief scout, Mark Dennehy, was asked to explain what he liked about the Slovak defenseman.
“He never seems to be in a rush…he knows where to go before everyone else,” said Dennehy.
Six months later and playing in Utica, Nemec seems just as unfazed with what his first season in North America has thrown at him.
“It’s different,” said Nemec, in improving English, “the ice is smaller, players are bigger, more physical…but it feels good.”
There has been plenty of good feeling surrounding Slovak hockey in the past year.
One of those moments took place on July 8 in Montreal at the NHL Draft. The Habs took forward Juraj Slafkovsky, a fellow Slovak, first overall, setting the stage for the Devils in the No. 2 spot, when Nemec’s name was called.
Four months earlier, Nemec and Slafkovsky won a bronze medal together at the Olympics. Having the Nos. 1 and 2 selections in the Draft, it was another seminal moment for Slovakia, a proud hockey nation that often punches above its weight in international competition.
“It’s just a very special time for our country,” said Nemec, referring collectively to the Olympic medal and producing the top two picks.
More recently, Nemec served as Slovak captain at the World Junior Hockey Championship. The highlight was beating Luke Hughes-led U.S. in pool play before giving eventual champion Canada all it could handle in the quarterfinals.
Speaking two weeks after losing on an epic overtime goal by Canadian whiz kid Connor Bedard, Nemec offered an interesting perspective.
“It was disappointing, it was a great game and we had a couple of good chances (to win),” he said of the Canada tilt, “but it was (more) disappointing to lose to Switzerland.”
Nemec reasoning was that the loss to the Swiss in pool play – in a marathon shootout – meant that Slovakia squandered a chance to win its group, forcing a much more difficult quarter-final matchup with the hosts.
Now back in Utica, Nemec is picking up where he left off. Both Comets head coach Kevin Dineen and GM Dan MacKinnon have raved about Nemec’s maturity and workmanlike approach in conversations that took place about the time that he left for the World Junior.
“You have to remember and remind yourself that he’s just 18,” said MacKinnon.

Nemec’s strength is his skating and his hockey sense. The physical tools are there – at 6-1, 190 pounds Nemec is perfectly content to battle opponents one-on-one – but it’s the six inches of space between his ears that are the most impressive.
“Elite hockey sense,” said Dennehy, repeating those words before expanding, “…he played against men (in Slovakia’s top league), he’s got great offensive instincts and sees the ice incredibly well.”
Nemec has four goals and 11 assists in 30 games in Utica. Those numbers are fine, especially for someone who doesn’t turn 19 until next month. But he doesn’t necessarily project as an offensive defenseman in the NHL. He’ll have stretches where the points will come but Nemec is more the other D in a first or second pairing (with Hughes or Dougie Hamilton someday?) who creates an easy path out of his own zone, or who instinctively knows when to exercise discretion, allowing his partner more space and freedom.
Mark Edwards is the founder of Hockey Prospect, who puts out the exhaustive Black Book every year with voluminous detail on every potential draft pick. For all the verbiage that goes into Edwards and his staff’s impressive work, a few simple words in his 2022 edition perhaps sum up Nemec best:
“The team who gets him will sleep well on July 8,” wrote Edwards.
Both Dennehy and Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald acknowledged that Nemec’s play at last spring’s World Championship put a bow on the package that was delivered that July 8th night in Montreal. It was at that tournament where Nemec played a more expansive role after just spot duty at the Olympics.
Slovakia was coached by Craig Ramsay, the former NHLer who has served in various coaching roles including helping the Tampa Bay Lightning win the 2004 Stanley Cup before moving overseas. Ramsay was clear to all those who asked that Nemec was the real deal.
“When you talk to Craig Ramsay who has been around the NHL as long as he has,” explained Dennehy, “he says that he’s not sure he’s ever coached a player with this type of hockey sense at this age.”
Devils fans understandably may wonder when Nemec will arrive in Newark. The call could come any time, depending upon a few factors that the young blueliner doesn’t completely control. It may have to wait until next season or beyond. Nemec doesn’t seem too concerned, nor to be spending too much energy thinking about it.
“I just need to play good,” he said.

For the most part, Nemec gave the answers you’d expect from a teenager speaking in his second language to a stranger over the phone: honest and straightforward with little detail. But toward the end of the conversation, Nemec provided some interesting background. He allowed that the adjustment to his first season in the Devils organization, though not without challenges, was not all that different from when he moved a few hours away from his hometown in Slovakia to play for Nitra, the club from where he was drafted.
“This is my fourth year living alone,” he said, of time away from his family and two younger brothers, including 15-year-old Adam, who is now playing for Nitra’s junior squad, “but it’s now been five months (in Utica), I’m used to it.”
That’s no surprise for a young man who always seems to know where to go.

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