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NHL Draft: Comparing Top Defensemen Jiricek and Nemec

Simon Nemec and David Jiricek enter the 2022 NHL draft as the top defensemen available. How do they stack up in key areas? Let's take a look.
Jiricek_Nemec

If Simon Nemec and David Jiricek were baseball players, one would be a reliable and productive bat who hits for average and gets on base but almost never knocks it out of the park. The other would be the guy hitting clean-up who would swing for the fences to try to clear the bases, sometimes doing just that, other times striking out in spectacular fashion.

Teams need both kinds of players, and each comes with his own advantages and shortcomings. Safe is good, but not if you think safe is death. Nemec and Jiricek will both be high first-round picks, likely the first and second D-men selected. Nemec was on Slovakia’s Olympic and World Championship teams, while Jiricek represented Czechia at the worlds. Here’s how they stack up in key areas.

Skating

Both are considered very good skaters, with Jiricek possessing more power in his stride, while Nemec is more dynamic and a little quicker. Scouts didn’t notice any difference in Jiricek’s skating after he came back late in the season from missing almost four months when he blew out his knee at the World Junior Championship. “Nemec is a clearly better skater right now,” said one scout. “Nemec will be a better skater at the NHL level, but the gap will close. When Jiricek fills out, the gap will get much smaller. It’s more than a full point now, it will be three-quarters to a half a point when it’s all said and done.” Edge: Nemec.

Physicality

This one is as close to being no contest as you’re going to find between these two players. Jiricek is by far the more physical player. In fact, much of Jiricek’s career will be defined by how he hits people. “Nemec is a positional stick-on-stick, stick-on-puck,” said one scout. “Jiricek is trying to put you into the second row. That’s going to be Jiricek’s thing. He doesn’t have any fear, he plays hard, he’s strong. And that’s one of the reasons he’ll go in the top 10.” Jiricek has a penchant for going for the big hit, which can tend to put him out of position at times, which is part of the risk-reward element to his game. Edge: Jiricek 

Hockey Sense

Both players are going to be high picks because of their ability to read the play at both ends of the ice, so there is no problem with either of them in this area of the game. Again, the difference between them might come down to the level of risk a team is willing to endure. “Nemec understands the game and makes simple plays,” said one scout. “Jiricek runs around and tries to make highlight-reel plays. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t. Not that Jiricek is bad, because they’re both above average, but Nemec is better.” Edge: Nemec 

Shot

Being a bigger guy, Jiricek likes to lean into his shots, while Nemec possesses more accuracy. And Nemec is more of a high-volume shooter than Jiricek, in part because Nemec tends to handle the puck a little more, and he’s more suited to a power-play role. “Jiricek shoots to score, but Nemec shoots to get tips or deflections,” said one scout. “Jiricek shoots to score, Nemec shoots to get the puck to the net.” Edge: Even 

Defensive Play

Because of his advantage in size and strength, Jiricek is able to be more effective in his own end. “Nemec is solid positionally, you don’t get by him, you have to go through him, and he just goes stick on puck and angles you off,” said one scout. “Jiricek goes for big hits, sometimes misses, but sometimes knocks guys out. Do you want safe and solid, or do you want the home-run hitter?” Nemec is not a deficient player by any means, but scouts would like to see him use his body more in the defensive zone, particularly in front of the net. Edge: Jiricek 

Offensive Play

As one scout said, you’re not drafting Jiricek to run your power play, but he’s going to be the one the coach puts out in the last minute to kill one off. Nemec is the opposite. The offense he brings is part of what makes him so attractive. He’s more versatile and has more creative tools. “Nemec makes other players better, Jiricek tries to hit home runs,” said one scout. “Jiricek is jumping in from the point, he’s shooting the puck a lot more, he’s trying to join or lead the rush. Nemec is content to move it to the right guy. They both have some offense, but it’s different.” Edge: Nemec 

First Pass

Both can get the puck out of their own zone well, but Nemec is more apt to skate it out of trouble than Jiricek. And when Nemec does pass it out, it tends to find the sticks of his forwards. “Nemec hits guys in seams, sends guys for breakaways,” said one scout. “Jiricek is less of that offensive-pass guy. Jiricek is very good and very efficient with his first pass. The difference is Nemec doesn’t always have to make the first pass. Nemec can look at another option…Nemec edges him, but it’s really close. In terms of the ability to not make the first pass or go center seam or delay for a second to allow Option 2 to open or to skate it to allow Option 2 to open up, Nemec clearly has the advantage. In terms of the first pass, Jiricek makes a good first pass.” Edge: Nemec 

NHL Readiness

It’s very likely neither Jiricek nor Nemec will appear in an NHL uniform next season. The feeling is that Jiricek, a late 2003 birthday, is more physically developed, while Nemec is more mentally ready but definitely has some filling out to do. Scouts expect Nemec will close that physical gap in the next couple of years. “Nemec is going to have to prove that he’s physically strong enough to play, and Jiricek is going to have to prove that he can make enough smart decisions to play,” said one scout. “It’s tied because they both have to develop different areas of their game.” Edge: Jiricek

Intangibles

If you’re looking for a junkyard dog, you’re much more likely to find it in Jiricek. “He’s kind of a throwback,” said one scout. “He’s a big body who hits people. He’s kind of like (Rangers 2020 first-rounder) Braden Schneider, he’s a hard guy to play against. With his own age group, he runs power plays and things, but I don’t think that’s going to be his thing going forward.” But if you’re seeking a player who will make smart, subtle plays and be content knowing that he has contributed without a lot of fanfare, Nemec is your man. “There are not a lot of weaknesses,” said another scout. Edge: Even 

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