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2022 NHL Draft Profiles: David Jiříček & Šimon Nemec

A detailed profile of the top two defencemen in the 2022 class

Canada v Czech Republic: Quarterfinals - 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

The two players profiled in this article are rare for a number of reasons. They’ve both spent the last two seasons playing against men in their respective countries as defencemen; they’ve both suited up for top international tournaments (IIHF World Championships; Olympic Games) in their draft year while most of their peers are unlikely to even represent their countries at the U20 level; and neither are from Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, or Finland.

Enter David Jiříček and Šimon Nemec — the undisputed top defencemen of the 2022 class since day one, and the primary reason why, if I’m Pierre Dorion, I’m waiting until my name is on the clock before I trade the seventh overall pick.


David Jiříček, RD

C Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
C Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
RD HC Plzen Czech Extraliga 6'3" 190 lbs 11/28/2003 #6

Background

David Jiříček started to play in his country’s top league — the Czech Extraliga — as a 16-year-old, playing four games after a dominant U20 campaign in the 2019-20 season. He’s spent the last two years playing against men full-time, only facing his peer group in major international competitions like the U18s and U20s. He was named by his coaches as one of Czechia’s top-three players on their game at last year’s World Juniors.

This past year, the 6-foot-3 rearguard has had an eventful season. He became one of only 34 defencemen to ever play more than 10 games in his draft year in the Extraliga, ranking first in points after producing 11 in 29 games (average of ~18 minutes of ice-time per game). Jiříček only managed to play nine minutes at the 2022 World Juniors, nabbing an assist against Team Canada, before a knee injury forced him to have surgery to repair a torn ligament and miss time from January to April. He returned for the end of the Extraliga season, which acted as a tune-up for the men’s IIHF World Championships; Jiříček recorded two points (look for #45 in this video against Sweden) in five contests.

All in all, Jiříček looks guaranteed to become the first Czech defencemen drafted in the first-round since Jakub Zbořil went to the Boston Bruins in 2015, and only the second since 2005.

Scouting Report

Note: In the video clips used below, Jiříček appears as #5 when playing for HC Plzen and #45 when playing for the Czech national team.

Since Jiříček’s foundational defensive game has been good enough to earn his coach’s trust to play against men for two whole seasons now, he’s had plenty of runway to foster offensive creativity against players who are bigger, stronger, and more advanced than he is. What we now see is a defender who possesses strong in-zone instincts at both ends.

Let’s start with his defensive toolkit through a series of clips presented in this video:

  • Jiříček starts having lost positioning against a forward along the boards, but watch him battle by using both his active hands and feet to win the puck without taking a penalty before clearing the zone.
  • In the second clip (0:10), I love the quick rotation of his feet after a forward attempts to beat him wide. This allows Jiříček to stay in front of his man before squeezing him out along the boards.
  • Finally, I’m a big believer that good defence starts in the offensive zone. Watch him take a quick scan (0:29) to see where the opposing forward is in the neutral zone, judge that his team has possession of the puck, and activate down the right-side to be an outlet. He quickly rotates back when he notices that it’s become a contested battle, and he’s able to be in good position to beat the same forward he scanned before to the puck, pin him against the wall, and wait for his teammate to collect the puck for an easy exit.

Offensively, here’s what I like about Jiříček:

  • Every player looks good in their highlight pack, so what’s important to pick up on are his habits. Watch him pick off a pass with good, high positioning above his blue line. He keeps his feet moving to activate in-zone on his weak side, continually scans while protecting the puck, and then waits at the point until he sees a moment where he can cut inside to set up a winger for a scoring chance. (Bonus: wait until the end of the clip to watch his fantastic stick-positioning in a one-on-one with a forward to break up an incoming rush).
  • He possesses both a heavy point shot (so heavy in fact that he’s been used on the half-wall for a one-timer on the powerplay) and a quick, accurate wrist shot that can make it through traffic.
  • He’s added deception to his game. This is from one of his first games back from injury; watch him fake pass with his head before ringing the puck off of the crossbar. Moreover, notice his poise on a few zone exits at the end of the clip, where he displays a slew of puck receiving skills (uses the direction of his skates to fool forecheckers; takes contact; allows the boards to be a defender) to take in pressure, stay calm, and start the breakout.
  • He keeps his head up, a skill which is allowing him to become a more aggressive in-zone activator and add layers to his team’s offence.

There aren’t any glaring weaknesses in Jiříček’s game. Those who have ranked him below Nemec primarily highlight two reasons why: 1) Nemec profiles as a more dynamic offensive contributor and thus, might have a higher ceiling than Jiříček; 2) Jiříček’s strength in his skating comes from his shiftiness, not necessarily his top speed; scouts wonder about whether he’ll have the burst to separate from NHL opposition after getting around them, especially post-surgery.

Data

[Note: there isn’t any further public tracking data I could find to add value to Jiříček’s profile; I hope the video clips above and below help compensate for that!]

Further reading, watching, and listening


Šimon Nemec, RD

C Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
C Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
RD HK Nitra Slovak Extraliga 6'1" 192 lbs 02/15/2004 #4

Background

Šimon Nemec started to play in his country’s top league — the Slovak Extraliga — as a 15-year-old, suiting up for 12 games at the top level after spending 13 at the U20 level and 20 at the Tier II men’s level. The February-born right-handed defender became one of only nine defencemen to ever play more than 10 games in the Extraliga during his pre-draft season and outproduced his closest compatriot by a factor of four.

His 2021-22 season has been historic. With 26 points in 39 games, Nemec’s draft season broke Ľubomír Višňovský’s regular season record for points by a U21 rearguard, and followed it up with 17 points in 19 playoff games — smashing the record for points by defenders in a single playoff campaign.

Internationally, Nemec was named a top three player on his team at the 2021 World Juniors with four points in five games, and looked even better in this year’s tournament before it was cancelled. He made up for any lost time with an MVP-winning performance in the Hlinka, an Olympic bronze medal, and produced six points in eight games at the most recent IIHF men’s world championships.

Scouting Report

Note: In the video clips used below, Nemec usually appears wearing #7.

Like Jiříček, Nemec is a sound foundational defenceman, capable of reading the ebbs and flows of a game he’s learning how to dictate as he gains more experience. Here’s a sampling of his defensive toolkit, all from the same game:

  • Watch him tie-up his opponent’s stick while defending the rush, and then break off at good timing to retrieve the puck.
  • Here, he breaks past the opposing forechecker with his feet, and then uses his vision to beat two more with a quick pass for a controlled exit and an odd-player rush for his team.
  • In this clip, Nemec smartly adjusts his approach point to the puck in order to have both an advantage in both body and stick positioning. He gets his stick to the puck first, and while he’s beat physically along the boards, his body acts as an obstacle for his teammate to collect the puck. A great display of defence in spite of not having the strength to outmuscle opponents — he won the battle overall.
  • Here are two instances of gap control [weak side, strong side], where he displays prime posture with his body, skating, and stick to strip player from puck.
  • While Nemec is on his weak-side in the neutral zone, he displays good habits to identify what the closest forward to him is doing while keeping an eye on the puck carrier. He spots a lateral pass so he stands up in the neutral zone break up the play and reverse pressure.

Let’s move onto to his offensive toolkit:

  • Again, good defence starts with offensive zone posture. Nemec has his initial shot blocked, but stays patient. When the puck goes down the left side wall, he notices that the opposing forwards aren’t pressuring while he has back-pressure from a forward, so he nicely times a pinch down the wall and uses his momentum and stick to jar the puck free and maintain zone time for his team.
  • Akin to Jiříček, Nemec possesses both a hard, low slap shot and a quick, accurate wrist shot that you’ll see on display quite a bit over the course of this highlight pack.
  • Watch for two good displays of offence. First, you see Nemec rolling his wrist to patiently out-wait a shot blocker. Next, you see him follow the play down the ice and instead of forcing a shot through three bodies, he doesn’t panic and instead, uses a slap pass to hit his forward near the net to generate chaos and a near-goal.
  • Here’s a collection of Nemec’s record-breaking play in the playoffs, with highlights and analysis of his points.
  • When scouts compare Nemec with Jiříček, the main difference in their offensive zone play appears to be Nemec’s ability to use his stronger acceleration to be a primary puck carrier on the rush, and his ability to combine his agility with two-step quickness to try creative in-zone plays like this.

Like with Jiříček, Nemec doesn’t feature many weaknesses. Again, I’ll point to the lack of a dynamic, game-breaking offensive tool that might impact his ceiling — though Nemec elevating his play in the playoffs might’ve put that to rest — and the rarity of projecting someone from the Slovak Extraliga to the NHL. Of the few NHL prospects to play there recently in their draft year, Nemec’s production outpaces them all, including bonafide NHLers like Erik Cernak, former Sens defender Andrej Meszaros, and curiously, last year’s top RHD in Brandt Clarke — who spent 26 games there during the COVID-19 cancelled OHL season with his brother Graeme and recorded a 0.58 points-per-game to Nemec’s 0.67.

Data

[Note: there isn’t any further public tracking data I could find to add value to Nemec’s profile; I hope the video clips above and below help compensate for that!]

Further reading, watching, and listening


Fit with Ottawa

While I understand that the Ottawa Senators are in a state of flux after the passing of Eugene Melnyk, the team, under his ownership, didn’t have the people or resources who could identify top-four defencemen outside of the draft. A right-shot defender with top-four potential is rarely available via trade and if they are, they usually cost a premium. Moreover, with the ceilings of Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson in question — are they #4’s? bonafide second-pair defencemen? — there’s a gap in the system for either Jiříček or Nemec to fill.

It’s hard to say where these two rank when we compare them with the top right-handed defenders from the last three years in Detroit’s Moritz Seider, Anaheim’s Jamie Drysdale, or LA’s Brandt Clarke. It felt easiest to talk about Drysdale’s dynamism, while Clarke felt the messiest due to the impact of COVID-19. Seider is probably the closest comparison given that the uncertainty about projecting from the Czech and Slovak Extraliga’s are similar to Germany’s DEL — it’s rare for high-end draft-eligible players to come from any of these places. However, Seider’s development into a bonafide star has been the most shocking to watch, especially given his weaker skating. It’s positive for both Jiříček and Nemec, as they both look to offer a calculated, composed 20+ minutes per game in all situations for the next decade — an extremely valuable proposition — without necessarily being speed demons.

Given that both have played against men for more than two seasons during the regular season and internationally, the AHL appears like the next logical step. This means that, compared to a defender drafted out of the North American circuit, I’d feel more comfortable penciling either of these players into an NHL lineup as a 20-year-old. For the Senators, that’ll match up nicely as it’s when we expect the team to be peaking competitively. Having value on an entry-level deal at a key spot in your lineup will potentially be massive at that point!

I’m curious to hear what you think: would you draft Jiříček or Nemec? Is it worth taking away Pierre Dorion’s phone from him until you’re certain that neither will be available at 7? Let me know in the comments!