Alexander Holtz ready for NHL play

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While still early in the season, some players have begun to make an impression. In this week‘s column we have our first‚ ‚“AHL Check In“ from Clare McManus who will be reporting here periodically on the NHL prospects that are making an impression in the AHL, but also over at McKeen’s Hockey as a scout and feature writer.

In this week’s 2022 NHL Draft prospect profile, you may just be hearing Šimon Nemec’s name for the first time, but be assured his profile will only grow as we get closer to Montreal in July. Already an established presence in Slovakia playing against men, and with an extensive international resume at the junior level, our Slovakian based scout and analyst Matej Deraj provides a profile of this exciting defensive prospect. McKeen’s is getting ready to release our preliminary ranking in the next couple of weeks. Be sure to check out where Nemec lands.

The McKeen’s team are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website:

PROSPECTS IN THE NEWS: Early Season AHL Check in

By Clare McManus

The AHL is up and running with a handful of top NHL prospects suiting up in the minor leagues this season.

Due to Covid shutting down the CHL for most of the year last season, and the OHL having no season at all, we saw a lot of 2020 NHL draft prospects go straight to the American Hockey League. A lot of young prospects seemed to adjust well in the minors last year, so this year, there are a few prospects who chose to stay in the AHL and not report back to their respective juniors teams. There are also a couple rookies from overseas who will be playing in their first North American season.

In this prospect check in, I will list a couple of notable prospects currently playing in the AHL, and give an overview on their performance so far in the season.

Alexander Holtz, RW, Utica Comets (NJ Devils)

2021-22 Utica, AHL, 4GP-5G-0A-5PTS

The 2020, 7th overall pick, has been one of the best performing prospects in the AHL to start the season. Before coming to the Devils organization, Holtz played the past few years with Djurgårdens IF in the SHL. Appearing in four games, Holtz has notched five goals for the Comets, and currently leads the team in goals scored. He has also recorded a total of 18 shots on goal. Holtz is a pure goal-scoring sniper who is adjusting very well to the North American style of play. Before being sent down to Utica, Holtz meshed well with Devils star Jack Hughes. But the Devils had other plans and chose to give him some AHL time. Now, since Holtz has been performing well, he could see a potential call up sometime soon.

Jack Quinn, RW/LW, Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres)

2021-22 Rochester, AHL, 6GP-5G-5A-10PTS

Sabres prospect Jack Quinn is off to a fantastic start in the AHL with the Americans, having a current point total of five goals and five assists for 10 points in six games. He stands fourth in the entire league in points. Last season, Quinn suited up for 15 games with the Americans, as the OHL was cancelled. He had a satisfactory performance, making some Sabres fans worried if he was 8th overall pick material, but with a good start to the year this season, many are starting to get excited about him. He has worked well with fellow Sabres prospect JJ Peterka in Rochester. Quinn works well down low, possessing a strong shot on goal. He is starting to look like his former self from his breakout season in juniors with the Ottawa 67s.

Valtteri Puustinen, LW/RW, WBS Penguins (Pittsburgh Penguins)

2021-22 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, AHL, 7GP-4G-4A-8PTS

The Penguins 7th-round pick in 2019 is off to a great start in his first North American season. Puustinen is a pretty underrated prospect, who possesses speed and strong goal-scoring skills. He’s been very good with the HPK organization in the Liiga for the past few years, posting 48 goals and 46 assists for 94 total points in 152 games, spanning over three seasons. This season, the 22-year-old currently has four goals and four assists for eight points in seven games with the WBS Penguins. He is a well-liked player in the locker room and on the ice. An undersized winger, Puustinen will look to continue his strong start and move up the ranks in the Penguins organization.

Scott Perunovich, LHD, Springfield Thunderbirds (St. Louis Blues)

Perunovich, recently named AHL star of the week, is currently one of the best defenseman in the AHL. Drafted by the Blues in the second-round of the 2018 NHL draft, Perunovich has notched two goals and eight assists for 10 points in six games with the Thunderbirds, leading all defenseman in points scored. Before coming to the Blues organization, the left-handed defenseman was an outstanding player with the University of Minnesota-Duluth. In the 2019-20 season, he won the Hobey Baker Award for top collegiate player, Best Offensive Defenseman, and NCHC Player of the Year. Perunovich is an elite skater with strong vision and passing abilities. He should definitely get a call-up with the Blues.

Jakob Pelletier, F, Stockton Heat (Calgary Flames)

Flames prospect and 2019, 26th overall pick, is doing very well to start his pro career. He currently stands 3rd overall in points by rookies in the AHL, with two goals and five assists for seven points in five games. Pelletier is an exciting prospect to watch who is a superb playmaking forward. He has played the past few seasons in the QMJHL with the Moncton Wildcats and Val-d’Or Foreurs, serving as a captain the last three seasons.

AHL Prospect News

  • The Pittsburgh Penguins have recalled defensive prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph from WBS. Joseph has appeared in six games with the WBS Penguins, recording three assists. He will slot into the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup, as LHD Marcus Pettersson has been placed into Covid Protocol.

  • After scoring no goals and only notching one assist in 10 games, Canadiens prospect Cole Caufield is in the hot seat and has been sent down to Laval of the AHL.

2022 NHL DRAFT: Slovak Phenomenon Fighting for the Best Defenseman Title

By Matej Deraj

Šimon Nemec, D

2020-21 HK Nitra, Tipos Extraliga 37GP-2G-17A-19PTS

2020-21 Slovakia U20, WJC-20 5GP-0G-4A-4PTS

2020-21 Slovakia, WC 5GP-0G-1A-1PT

2021-22 HK Nitra, Tipos Extraliga 13GP-0G-8A-8PTS

The Slovak highest league has never seen a local defenseman as promising as Šimon Nemec (pronunciation: SHE-MON NYE-METS) before. Last year, Nemec had a 0.51 points-per-game average while just 16-years old for most of the season. He absolutely demolished the previous D-1 year record (0.11 points-per-game) and continues to impress.

Tipos Extraliga is a relatively unknown league, compared to the top European championships. In the last NHL Entry Draft, two players were selected from it; the first one being Slovak center Jakub Demek, drafted in the 4th round by the Vegas Golden Knights. The second one came from Canada on loan.

Due to the pandemic and the 2020-21 OHL season being cancelled, top prospect Brandt Clarke was forced to find a new home for his draft season. The Canadian defenseman chose HC Nové Zámky of Tipos Extraliga and played his first matches in a professional league there. Clarke had a rough start (went pointless in first eight games), but then adjusted really well and finished the season with 15 points in 26 games. He was drafted 8th overall by the Los Angeles Kings.

The Nemec – Clarke clash was one of the highlights of the last Extraliga season. Both right-handed, offensively skilled, top defensive prospects were compared to each other often. With Clarke being back in the OHL, now all the attention goes back to Nemec.

The 17-year-old defenseman is starting his third professional year despite his age. Šimon Nemec has established himself well on the second defensive pairing for HK Nitra, skating alongside a 37-year-old veteran Ivan Švarný. Nemec also sees a lot of powerplay time, quarterbacking the second unit.

The results of his significant ice time have shown up immediately; he put up eight points (0G, 8A) in the first thirteen matches of the season. His points-per-game total (0.62) currently surpasses Clarke (0.58) as the best in the Extraliga history for a draft eligible defenseman.

The young Slovak has had an incredibly successful international career so far. Back in the summer, he captained the silver medal winning Hlinka Gretzky Cup U18 team. Nemec has already played at the Men´s World Championships (as the 2nd youngest Slovak in history) as well as the World Junior Championship (WJC U20). He was the team´s leading scorer in Edmonton, with four points in five matches.

The Slovak prospect is regarded as a two-way defenseman with dangerous offensive skills. Nemec has excellent hockey sense and that is probably his best asset. He´s always playing with his head up and looking for the best option, usually for a pass to the teammate in the best shooting position. He also uses his body language well to get rid of the opponents, he has a lot of skill moves and is not afraid to keep the puck. His size (6-1”, 192 lbs.) is not an issue as well.

Nemec´s defensive game is a bit underrated, he´s mostly looked at as a pure offensive defenseman. That is not exactly a correct evaluation – even though he´s prone to make errors, which is not unusual for a 17-year-old who´s playing with men. He´s been compared to Roman Josi, Cale Makar or Adam Fox. Nemec might not have the same ceiling as all of them, but he definitely has a top-pairing potential.

Due to the previously mentioned low level of the Slovak league´s exposure, Nemec is still flying under the radar a bit. He has been ranked outside the Top 10, or even in the middle of the 1st round in some rankings. In fact, the Slovak youngster is well on his way to becoming the best, and ultimately highest selected defenseman in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. His rivals (David Jiříček, Elias Salomonsson, Seamus Casey) are all quality prospects, but with more exposure, Nemec should see himself rising up the draft boards.

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