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Prospect Roundup: Four Hot Takes for a Cold January

With January coming to an end, the cold of winter is starting to get to everyone. What better time than now to unleash some hot takes to warm your souls and light a fire in the belly of debate?
Alex Nedeljkovic

Alex Nedeljkovic

With January coming to an end, the cold of winter is starting to get to everyone. What better time than now to unleash some hot takes to warm your souls and light a fire in the belly of debate?

The prospect world is ripe for hot takes. Whether discussing the NHL draft or a team's prospect pool or top rookies, there are endless opportunities to get bold. Here are four hot takes to close out the month:

Alex Nedeljkovic has been the Detroit Red Wings' most impactful rookie

Credit goes to Prashanth Iyer for presenting this opinion on Twitter – the more you dive into it, the more the theory makes sense. Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider have had impressive seasons and are getting a ton of love for obvious reasons but it’s their rookie netminder that has been the player who has led them to be the best team likely to miss the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

With the way the math works out in the East, the eight playoff teams seem fairly set. But Detroit has established themselves among the best on the outside looking in thanks to Nedeljkovic’s strong play in net. He has sat around the top 10 of the NHL in goals saved above expected and ranks sixth in the league since Dec. 1. To say that he’s been the determining factor in games over the last couple of months would be an understatement for a team with a roster that is overwhelmingly blasé beyond the rookies and top couple of forwards.

The statistic that supports this argument best, however, might be the team's overall expected goals percentage (xG%). Sitting 25th in the league, Detroit has been a typical rebuilding team in front of their netminder. They struggle to prevent high danger chances and rely on Nedeljkovic to bail them out more often than not. Despite the impacts that have made Raymond and Seider Calder trophy favorites, Nedeljkovic is the straw that stirs the Red Wings’ drink this year.

Statistics courtesy of Evolving Hockey

Frank Nazar III will be the best player to come out of this year’s U.S. NTDP crop

While most of the hype for the U.S. NTDP’s top player has gone to Logan Cooley this year, Frank Nazar III may just be the best player to come from this iteration of the program. 

The factor that differentiates Nazar from Cooley though is the incredible set of tools that Nazar boasts. He has well-above-average tools across the board with elite skating and the ability to do it all at a breakneck pace. Nazar attacks the play in all facets of the game, with or without the puck. He applies pressure with haste and forces mistakes when his opponent has the puck. Nazar funnels his play towards the middle of the ice, cutting inside of a defender after a shoulder shake or false step to the outside, making space for himself to attack the slot. His hands are silky, at times looking as if the puck has been stripped just to wind up on his stick in a high-danger scoring area. 

There are certain areas of his game that need improvements such as his defensive consistency and his passing accuracy at times. He can get a bit overeager and send a pass a half-second early which means the recipient can have a bit of a hard time corralling it or it just doesn’t connect as intended. With his attack mindset, incredibly high pace, and toolset that most players only dream of, Nazar very well could have one of the highest ceilings in the draft, and not just the U.S. NTDP.

Scott Morrow will be a top-10 player from the 2021 NHL draft

Scott Morrow was a divisive prospect during last year's draft cycle. As a high school defender, it was tough to fully figure out how he'd translate his game to higher levels. His USHL experience was limited because of the pandemic but when he was able to play in the USHL for six games in the playoffs, he showed well. His defensive effort was often questioned because playing for Shattuck St. Mary’s against U.S. high school competition often made it easy for him to rely on his raw tools and lack the refinement it takes to play against better competition. Ultimately, he was drafted 40th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes.

As the conductor of the Morrow hype train last year, I am pleased to say that he has exceeded expectations at the NCAA level with UMass. He has 21 points in 21 games as a freshman defenseman, good for second on the team behind senior forward Bobby Trivigno. His ability to attack the play with the puck on his stick and create something out of nothing is remarkable at times. 

Morrow is a strong puck carrier and can be a major factor in transition, both as a passer and skater. Morrow reads opposing players well and manipulates them regularly with eye fakes, shoulder shimmies, and a variety of other manipulative moves that allow him to use his high-end puck skill to evade pressure. He likely needs another year at the college level at a minimum but the young American blueliner is already delivering some tasty returns on the Hurricanes second-round pick from last summer.

Šimon Nemec locks himself in as the top blueliner in the 2022 NHL draft at the Olympics

This year's draft cycle has been an interesting one. There haven’t been many players truly establishing themselves as surefire top of the draft players with uneven performances nearly across the board. One player who has seemed to really come on over the last month or two is Slovak defenseman, Šimon Nemec. With ten points in his last ten games in the top league in Slovakia, Nemec is establishing himself as one of the top defensemen in this year’s class. 

Nemec is the kind of player where you could always see the upper echelon skills when he played against lower-end competition but at the men’s level, at least to start the season, he was playing a bit more reserved and would often pass up opportunities to insert himself into the play as a difference-maker. Nemec has begun to gain confidence in his abilities against more senior competition and his game has taken off. His vision and play reading ability go hand in hand as he threads passes to high danger areas and his mobility on the blueline has become a major asset as he evades pressure and walks the line in search of passing and shooting lanes.

The upcoming Olympic games will be a major opportunity for the young Slovak blueliner as he will be able to showcase his game on the world level. While it won’t be against NHL-level talent, he will be able to go head to head with some of the best players in all of Europe which will be a good test for Nemec. The Slovak men’s league is solid and any time a 17-year-old is playing against men it’s a good thing, but the step up to playing against some of the SHL, KHL, and Liiga’s best will be a welcome opportunity for talent evaluators as they make their assessments on Nemec.

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