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Simon Nemec is Silent but Deadly

Simon Nemec says very little when asked to sell himself to NHL clubs. He let's his play do the talking.

Note: Read about Nemec and the 2022 NHL draft in Draft Preview, available now.

Simon Nemec is not one for long-winded answers, not even for potential employers. Ask him if there’s anything he’d like to tell the NHL teams thinking of drafting him, he smirks and gives a curt “No.”

No one can blame Nemec for taking such a cut-and-dried approach to his craft. As arguably the top defenseman in the 2022 draft, he admittedly prefers to let his play speak for itself, and it’s worked for him so far. During what turned out to be the most chaotic season of his young career, Nemec’s play spoke volumes, broadcasting his potential as a burgeoning star with a deafening force for all to see.

The 2021-22 campaign was a transformative one for Nemec, both on and off the ice. Throughout all the COVID-19 complications, the draft-ranking anxiety and even a mid-season appointment to the Slovak Olympic team at the height of a public-health crisis, Nemec remained as steady as ever, never letting the moment overwhelm him.

And during a season that shuttled him around the world, he always seemed to be in the middle of a moment. First, it was taking silver at the under-18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and being named tournament MVP, then bringing home bronze at the Winter Olympics in China and finally reaching the championship series of the Tipos Extraliga playoffs back home in Slovakia. “It’s been amazing for me,” Nemec said.

Nemec has every reason to be self-assured. His pro team, Nitra, made it to the Slovak league final in large part due to Nemec’s rapid emergence – made even more impressive considering he only turned 18 in February. Such success didn’t come as a shock to Nemec, though. “I feel better when I’m under pressure,” he said with a smile.

For as impressive as the playoffs were for Nemec, they served as the epilogue to a remarkable regular season, one that launched his name up countless draft boards and into the forefront of every scout’s mind. He’s No. 4 on The Hockey News’ top 100 draft rankings. (See pg. 42 of Draft Preview.)

He was hard to miss, frankly. Nemec improved his production by leaps and bounds in 2021-22, bumping his scoring pace up from 0.51 points per game to 0.66, all with an element of poise and patience well beyond his years. The defensive side of the puck is still a work in progress. That tends to be the case with most young defenders. But Nemec made significant strides in that crucial area, too. And while individual defensive data is not publicly available in the Slovak league, Nemec’s turnaround in the good old-fashioned plus-minus category, going from a minus-10 in 2020-21 to plus-13 this season, is drastic enough to warrant mention.

Good things happen when Nemec is on the ice. And for a young defender playing heavy minutes against grown professionals on a contending team, what more can you ask for?

Through it all, Nemec changed very little in how he went about his business. He still woke up at the same time each morning. He still took the same two-hour nap on game-day afternoons. And he still put each piece of equipment on beginning with his left leg. Always his left, though Nemec won’t admit to being superstitious.

As the season progressed, Nemec learned just how vital the downtime he spends away from the rink really is, even if fully unwinding is easier said than done. “I’m always thinking about hockey,” he said. “I’m always watching some NHL or other league’s games. Even away from the rink, I’m still thinking about hockey.”

The typical teenage outlets helped Nemec maintain that crucial work-life balance throughout the season, particularly at the heights of last year’s COVID-19 waves – whether he was playing video games, watching Netflix and going on walks around the city with teammates or friends, or just playing NHL, FIFA or F1 on his own.

Nemec’s face notably lights up when Formula 1 is mentioned. Like many his age, Nemec has been swept up in the sport’s rapid rise to the height of popular culture in recent years, revealing that he’s watched all four seasons of the Netflix series Drive to Survive and is an avid viewer of each race.

Formula 1 isn’t just a hobby for Nemec. It’s a source of inspiration for a young hockey mind always searching for new methods to replicate. On the racetrack, it’s the focus paid to the most minute details by each driver, with a fraction of a second separating success from failure, that fascinates Nemec. He sees it most in his favorite driver: Max Verstappen and his Red Bull crew. “They focus for more details, and answering what they don’t know,” Nemec said. “Just watching, it’s amazing what they made with his car. So, it’s pretty cool to see.”

Details, naturally, are of extreme importance to Nemec. That type of granular focus is something he’s made efforts to apply to his own preparation. He opts against group workouts in favor of spending his summers training alone with his personal coach so the two can tweak and tinker every little aspect of his game. Yet in what has become a growing trend among young players, Nemec admits to his reluctance at spending the off-season months trapped in the rink. “I don’t like ice in the summer,” he said. “Just take a break.”

With the NHL draft quickly approaching, Nemec is closer than ever to rubbing shoulders with the likes of Erik Karlsson, Cale Makar and Roman Josi, players he’s modelled his game on since he was a kid. He’s yet to meet any of them, despite having already interviewed with various NHL teams. But if things continue at their current rate, Nemec will soon be lining up against those stars.

The thought of what it would be like to face his idols, however, is something Nemec hasn’t allowed himself to broach quite yet. “I don’t know, really,” he said. “But I must train every day.” 

Some things never change. 

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