Fun fact: in three of the last four NHL Drafts, the Detroit Red Wings have picked at least one player that is from the state of Michigan. However, the Original Six franchise has only selected a Michigan-born player once in the first round of the draft: Dylan Larkin, selected 15th overall in the 2014 draft. Needless to say, the Red Wings don’t exactly have a history of keeping it local with their picks in the first round.
Related: Red Wings 2022 Draft Coverage
There is a Michigan-born player projected to go in the first round of the 2022 draft. His name is Frank Nazar and he hails from Mt. Clemens, which is about 27 miles away from Detroit. He is committed to play in Ann Arbor for the University of Michigan next season.
As a forward prospect, Nazar is perhaps one of the most polarizing prospects projected to go in the first round. The folks who like him like him a lot, with some ranking him as a top-10 player in this draft. The folks who don’t like him see him going closer to 20th overall than 10th overall, and people in this camp hold some valid concerns. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle and, as you’re about to find out, this player is going to be an intriguing prospect for whatever team calls his name.
The name of the game for Nazar is putting up points, plain and simple. His production this season with the National Team Development Program (70 points in 56 games) is comparable to Minnesota Wild winger Matt Boldy in his draft season (81 points in 64 games), and Nazar’s awareness in the offensive zone makes him a playmaking threat every time the puck is on his stick in the offensive zone. While I would hardly say that Nazar and Boldy are comparable players, if Nazar can make an impact in the NHL like Boldy did this season (39 points in 47 games), he’ll be worth a top-15 pick.
Related: 2022 NHL Draft Guide
Nazar is able to showcase his offensive abilities because he’s quick to get the puck into the offensive zone. He is one of the best skaters in this draft class in terms of mobility and overall speed. If you blink when he has the puck at the defensive blue line, he’ll likely be at the offensive blue line by the time you open your eyes. Opposing defenders have to respect that speed, meaning that he usually enters the zone unchallenged. Once he’s in the zone, he usually looks to find an open teammate, even if it means hitting the brakes and delaying so that his teammates can enter the play.
Nazar competes hard in the offensive zone. He’ll go along the boards to the move the puck, taking any punishment that comes in that area. He follows the puck to the net, looking to cash-in on any rebounds that might be available. When he has the opportunity to take a shot, he has a quick release and good wrist movement which allows his shot to catch the goalie off guard. He’s no sniper, but he can score when the opportunities present themselves.
The thing that makes him such a highly-rated prospect in this year’s draft class is his overall offensive IQ. Nazar just downright makes plays – sometimes of the highlight reel variety. He made no-look passes look easy this season with the NTDP, and those types of plays are usually only possible if the player is keenly aware of where everyone on the ice is at that particular moment. He has that awareness, and he is creative enough to attack passing lanes that other players may shy away from. In his prime, he could be a lock for 40-50 assists per season, with 20-30 goals to fill out his stat line.
What Nazar Still Has to Work On
You’ll notice that the previous section made no mention of Nazar’s defensive game. That’s because there is still a lot of work to be done in that area of his game. There were sequences throughout this season that he looked disinterested in the defensive zone, and there were other instances where as soon as an opposing forward beat him for the puck, he gave up on the play entirely. He is a good back-checker (mostly because of his speed), but once he’s pinned in his own zone, things start to unravel. That level of extra effort he gives in the offensive zone is simply not present in his defensive game. This is why even though he is listed as a center, it would be unsurprising if he ended up being a winger at the NHL level.
Nazar is also the type of player that thrives when he has options. When he has a passing option, opposing defenders have to respect the pass just as much as the shot, and he can break away using his speed and puck-handling abilities. If defenders can take away his options, he becomes a lot easier to snuff out. A big defender can physically impose on him given his 5-foot-10, 175 pound frame, and a defenseman with good stick-checking abilities can knock him off the puck in a one-on-one battle. He is really light on his stick, so if he doesn’t fumble the puck himself, an opposing defender can force him to make a mistake with some well-timed pressure. If there are options on the ice, he can find them; if there are no other options, it starts to become obvious that he isn’t a bona fide scoring threat on his own.
Adding strength will be imperative to his overall development as a player. While I wouldn’t call Nazar a fragile player, he is pretty easy to knock around, and the opposition will only get tougher and stronger as he rises up the ranks. Added strength would also allow him to be strong on his stick, making pucks a lot harder to knock away from him. He’s so dangerous with the puck on his stick, so the goal has to be making sure he’s able to have it on his stick as much as possible. If he can also develop even an average defensive game, he’ll become a virtual lock as a top six forward in the NHL.
Nazar has clear NHL potential – that much is undebatable. He already shows NHL-caliber offensive traits, and if he played on a line with an elite playmaker and/or goal-scorer, he could probably produce decent numbers in the NHL right away. He would have to be incredibly sheltered, but the talent is there.
Nazar is a clear example of a player that needs more time at lower levels of competition. As was previously mentioned, he is set to play for the Michigan Wolverines next season, a program that is building quite the reputation for hoarding high-end NHL prospects. With the Wolverines, he’ll have the opportunity to play alongside players such as Luke Hughes (fourth overall, 2021), Rutger McGroarty, and Adam Fantilli (2023 draft-eligible). Playing with a top-tier collegiate program should allow him to hone his skills while also developing the areas of his game that need work. The following season, he’ll probably play in the American Hockey League. The 2024-25 season should be when he really starts to push for an NHL spot.
Nazar’s Fit with the Red Wings
Everybody loves a hometown hero. If the Red Wings were to call Nazar’s name at eighth overall, people would buy his jersey solely because of the local connection. That he is also pretty good at hockey is just an added bonus. From a marketing/PR perspective, he is one of the better choices the Red Wings should have available to them.
From an on-ice perspective, Nazar is a prospect that offers a somewhat similar package to what they have in Lucas Raymond. Both players don’t have a ton of size, and both possess sky-high offensive awareness. While Raymond is much better in his own zone, Nazar could potentially play down the middle, the biggest area of need in the Red Wings’ prospect pool. Even if Nazar does play on the wing in the NHL, the Red Wings would be able to ice a top six that features Raymond on one line and Nazar on the other – that has all the makings of a lethal top six.
Best Player Available
Whether or not Nazar will be the best player available at eighth overall depends greatly on who else is available and how much the Red Wings believe in his potential. I think he’s a top-15 player in this draft, but I’m not as sold on him being a top-10 player. I have a list of players I think the Red Wings should target with their first pick and he’s on the list – but he’s the fifth-ranked option on a list that includes just five players.
“While Nazar possesses the skill and ability to beat defenders out wide, he loves to target the middle lane of the ice when entering the offensive zone. This allows him to draw more attention to himself, which opens up the other lanes for his linemates to exploit. Nazar’s core strength and impressive balance on his skates also makes him difficult to muscle off the puck, both along the boards and in the more high-danger areas.” – Paul Zuk, Smaht Scouting
“There’s little doubt Nazar is a bonafide scorer, and his speed and superb skill will likely translate quite well to the NHL level. There’s every reason to believe he’ll handle the transition to college — and ultimately the NHL — with little issue. He has excelled at every level, with almost no drop-off despite constantly facing increasingly difficult opposition.” – Patrick Brown, The Hockey Writers
“It’s almost unthinkable that any scout can watch Nazar and not appreciate his superior feel for the game. It’s one thing to be a top scorer who’s a fast skater, but Nazar exemplifies the pureness of playmaking; one who wants the puck simply to make everyone around him better.” – Steve Kournianos
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.