Simon Nemec Shines as Bright Spot in a Tough New Jersey Devils Season

Despite all the pain, Simon Nemec continues to excel on a flawed New Jersey Devils team.

Calgary Flames v New Jersey Devils
Calgary Flames v New Jersey Devils / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

The New Jersey Devils came into the 2023-24 season as potential Stanley Cup contenders and favorites to go deep into the playoffs for many NHL analysts. With a 28-24-4 record, they currently stand in fourth in the Metropolitan Division. That’s not exactly the dominant season many expected from them, and certainly not the kind of season the Devils expected from themselves.

There have been injuries that have plagued key players from the start of the season, the situation with Michael McLeod and Cal Foote that has removed them from eligibility, lackluster goaltending, questionable lineup decisions from head coach Lindy Ruff, and an inability to get a consistent streak of games going. So far, there’s a lot for Devils fans to be disappointed with, but a bright spot during this season has been the burgeoning play of rookie defenseman Šimon Nemec.

Nemec hails from Slovakia and was drafted by the Devils as the second-overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. He has played for Slovakia internationally, notably for the 2022 bronze-medal Olympic team.

At 6’1” and 198 pounds, he’s a decent-sized defenseman with room to grow. For the 2022-2023 season, Nemec played 65 regular season games for the Devils AHL affiliate Utica Comets and contributed to the team’s playoff appearance. Nemec had to adjust to not only the AHL but also a new country, language, and culture as a young 18-year-old. He took on the challenge without hesitation, and by the end of the season, he showed improved defensive and language skills. When called up to the Devils on December 1st in response to a d-core that has spent the season missing several key pieces at times, including Dougie Hamilton, Jonas Siegenthaler, Brendan Smith, and John Marino, Nemec had the chance to face a new challenge. Having been a promising defensive prospect on the Devils’ radar for some time now, the Devils’ staff has given him the chance to show if he’s NHL material this season.

In his few short months as an NHLer, Nemec stepped up to the challenge and showcased why he’s been considered such an elite defensive prospect. He’s averaging just over 20 minutes of ice time per game and has, along with Luke Hughes, taken on a significant responsibility for a rookie. He has sometimes played on the top defensive pairing and featured on the second power-play unit.

With an awareness and maturity to his play, Nemec certainly doesn’t look like a nervous rookie out on the ice. In his first game with the Devils, he knotted two assists, and while that hasn’t been the standard for all of his games, he did tally an assist in the Devils most recent matchup against Washington. He might not always contribute offensively, but he’s been able to utilize his stick-handling abilities to break up passes, kill plays, and handle the puck responsibly in the Devils’ zone, all things that are significantly helpful when goalies are struggling.

Where Nemec might fit in the long term is still a question. Once the Devils D-core is healthy again, Nemec may not see as much power play time and may feature more on the penalty kill. His ice time may also be reduced. Of course, there’s always the possibility that he gets sent back down to Utica. Nemec, however, wants to be a Devil and is doing everything in his power to prove he’s worthy of it. It wasn’t a given that Nemec would be with the Devils this season for any amount of time, but the rookie teammates affectionately call “Nemo” seems to be finding (pun intended) himself and his role on the team.