The Detroit Red Wings are the reason Frank Nazar III began playing hockey, and now he’s poised to potentially add a major dose of excitement to their rebuild.
Nazar was among the players general manager Steve Yzerman and select members of his staff interviewed at the NHL combine earlier this month in Buffalo. It was a thrill for Nazar, a Mount Clemens native and USA Hockey National Development Team product, and a chance for the Wings to solidify where Nazar ranks on their draft sheet.
He had a ready answer why the Wings should select him.
“Definitely my competitiveness and the ability to make plays,” Nazar told the Free Press. “I think that’s something the Wings are going to need moving forward. I think I could pair well with (Dylan) Larkin, being two speedy guys that are always bringing high consistency and high pace to the game, and then always able to make plays. I’d be super excited if I were to be drafted by the Red Wings.”
In three drafts under Yzerman, he has used first-round picks on defenseman Moritz Seider (2019), winger Lucas Raymond (2020) and defenseman Simon Edvinsson and goaltender Sebastian Cossa (both 2021). The Wings need a blue-chip center prospect, and that’s Nazar’s appeal. He has a combination of speed, hockey sense and competitiveness and may be the best option available at No. 8. Forwards Shane Wright, Logan Cooley and Juraj Slafkovsky are projected to be the top three picks when the draft begins July 7 in Montreal, and centers Cutter Gauthier and Conor Geekie may be off the board soon after.
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Nazar, 18, is one of the most exciting players in the draft thanks to his quick feet and quick hands. (The Montreal Canadiens asked prospects in interviews what animal they’d be; Nazar answered a cheetah, the fasted land animal in the world.) He posted 43 goals and 62 assists in 80 games last season, spread across the U-18s and USHL. He plays bigger than his 5-foot-10, 181-pound frame, fighting through physical contact to make plays all over the ice and using his speed to pull away from defenders.
“My vision is up there with my skating,” Nazar said. “It helps me create lots of opportunities, lots of grade-A chances. I feel like I bring a lot to a team, that I create a lot of chances and don’t give up much on the defensive side.”
Nazar is committed to playing at Michigan come fall, which puts him in an elite program that in 2021 produced three of the top five overall draft picks (No. 1 Owen Power, No. 2 Matthew Beniers and No. 5 Kent Johnson).
Nazar, who shoots right, can play center or right wing. He’s been involved in the game since he was about 6, when his dad was watching a Wings game and Nazar came into the room.
“The Red Wings are why I got into hockey,” Nazar said. “Just my dad being a fan and watching hockey. I walked in one day and he asked me if it was something I wanted to do. It was my first time getting on the ice.”
To end up spending 20 minutes with Yzerman and Kris Draper, the director of amateur scouting, at the combine was a heady development.
“I was definitely nervous a little bit,” Nazar said. “I didn’t know exactly what he was going to say or think. Shaking his hand, I realized, ‘Man, I’m standing here with Steve Yzerman. This is amazing, just being from Detroit.’
“I was nervous that he was going to look me in the eye and stare me down, but as I sat down, he was super nice and making it easy for me to get in there and answer some questions. It was mostly Mr. Draper asking questions and Mr. Yzerman was overlooking them and he threw in a few about Michigan.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.