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2022 NHL Draft prospect profile: Frank Nazar’s vision makes him a dangerous dual-threat centre

Part of an elite development program, Nazar is among the best coming out of the USNTDP.

Rena Laverty / USA Hockey’s NTDP

In recent seasons, the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP) has rocketed to the top of the list in terms of draft picks and the stars it’s producing. The 2022 crop is no exception as the incoming class boasts a mountain of first-round-calibre talent.

Among those names is Frank Nazar, a centre who is headed to the University of Michigan in the fall. He more than held his own to establish himself on a USNTDP U18 team that also featured Logan Cooley, Rutger McGroarty, and Isaac Howard, all of whom will likely go during the draft’s first day. An excellent skater, Nazar represents a real dual threat with the puck on his stick, and is likely to make any team very happy when he reaches the NHL.

Date of Birth: January 14, 2004
Hometown: Mt. Clemens, Michigan
Shoots: Right
Position: Centre
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 174 lbs
Team: University of Michigan

No matter the level of play, Nazar has produced at or above a point-per-game pace in the U.S. program, and it’s hard to see that slowing down as he takes another step up into the NCAA for the Michigan Wolverines. Despite a tough season that saw many of their star players depart for the NHL, the Wolverines are reloading in a big way with him joining McGroarty, Adam Fantilli, and Seamus Casey for next year.

Elite Prospects

What allows Nazar to become such a dominant scoring threat at every level he’s been at? It all starts with his skating, as he has elite edge-work and top speed that allow him to be a dangerous threat in transition. While not the fastest skater in the draft, he has the ability to exploit any hesitation from defenders and attack through the neutral zone.

Once Nazar has generated that space he really begins to shine in the offensive zone. His shooting talents, while playing second fiddle to his playmaking skills, are still a strong piece of his toolkit. His release is quick, allowing him to snap off shots from dangerous areas, and pick corners relatively easily. He also doesn’t waste many shots, shooting only when he feels there’s a high-percentage chance.

Given his propensity for driving to the slot, those chances are not rare, and it’s not just goals for himself that he creates when getting into the dangerous areas. He truly begins to thrive as a dynamic playmaker when he gets deep into the high-danger areas on the ice. While he has no problem working on the periphery, he loves to get into the slot and send passes laterally to his teammates to set up their scoring chances.

Part of what makes Nazar such a threat between the hashmarks is that his vision and processing are near the top of the draft class. He already reads plays well with the puck on his stick, using his aforementioned skating to catch defenders napping, but it also allows him to slide passes to his teammates easily, or to find open space to operate in for himself.

What has really impressed scouts about his overall game is that even with all the offensive prowess and skill he shows with the puck, it doesn’t come at the expense of defensive-zone duties. His ability to read developing plays goes both ways, as he picks up reads defensively and uses an active stick to break up passes even if he’s a step behind the opponent. Once he’s dispossessed his check, he can immediately flip the switch into offence and begin the breakout the other way.

Perhaps one of the few drawbacks to his game is that while he is a talented shooter from inside the high-danger areas, he isn’t as effective from range. He could use a bit of refinement in his mechanics to help generate more power when shooting. He could also stand to shoot more often, sometimes passing up prime opportunities for himself to push plays toward his teammates. Being just a bit more selfish should see his already impressive offence reach another level in the NCAA.

While mostly an overblown concern in the modern game, he isn’t the largest of forwards, and with the NCAA being a physical step up from the USNTDP, he could stand to add a bit of mass to his frame to compensate.

Rankings

Dobber Prospects: #6
Elite Prospects: #4
FC Hockey: #10
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #14
McKeen’s: #18
NHL Central Scouting: #21 (North American skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic): #19
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #10

The rankings for Nazar vary quite a bit, with many thinking he’s a top-10 pick, and others ranking him lower in the first round. If there’s even a remote chance that he falls into striking distance of the Montreal Canadiens’ second pick in the first round, Kent Hughes should be working the phones to try to move up and grab him.

Nazar is in a program loaded to the brim with talented prospects, and even among them he finds a way to stand out. It feels highly unlikely that he’ll be available late enough in the first round that he’s still on the board for Montreal, but whichever team chooses him would be collecting a supremely talented piece. He has skating talent, offensive prowess, and the ability to read plays as they develop, which allows him to put pucks places many prospects can’t.

The U.S. program has so many talented pieces, and could likely have two of the first three or four centres taken in this draft. They all offer different talents, but Frank Nazar has the skills to become a star at the NHL level, and come draft day, he is going to make one GM very happy.