📝 by Jason Shaya | AHL On The Beat
The maturity of a player is measured abstractly. There’s no empirical scale to determine how far along a player is with his development. It’s something you know by watching and seeing how someone handles the pressure of playing in one of the best leagues in the world.
In the case of 18-year-old Utica Comets defenseman Simon Nemec, it was evident right away that the second overall pick from last summer’s NHL Draft had the quality of poise and maturity that generally comes with age and experience.
The pressure from being selected second overall can be overwhelming. Suddenly, expectations are foisted onto a player. Not only are you going into games playing against men who are older and stronger, but you must fight a cloud of expectations hanging over your head. Not every player handles this kind of pressure the same way. You can go through the list of previous draft picks and find players who never rose to the level the NHL team hoped for when they were picked.
As Nemec stepped onto the ice during his first AHL game back on Oct. 15 in Hershey, one thing was clear: he was poised and calm, and let the game come to him. He wasn’t chasing it. He was playing like someone whose been around for a long time. That’s a quality that’s tough to instill. But it’s a necessary component for players who hope to build a long and stable career.
For Nemec, the foundation of his development is already being built on solid ground.
His defense partner this season is a Canadian Olympian from last year, Tyler Wotherspoon. With the more offensive-minded Nemec, being paired with a veteran like Wotherspoon — whose steady stay-at-home style bodes well in combination with Nemec, who likes to join the rush — makes for an exciting combination.
For Wotherspoon, the partnership is fun.
“It’s been a learning process getting up to speed with the North American game style and when and where to make reads,” said Wotherspoon, “but I think he’s come along way even in his first 10 games.”
The head coach of the Comets, Kevin Dineen, likes what he’s seen early on from Nemec and he knows the road ahead will be exciting for the New Jersey Devils draft pick.
“Game to game you’re evaluating where he’s at and he’s very comfortable out there,” Dineen said. “Especially in stressful situations. I think one of his strengths is accepting pressure and making solid a breakout pass.
“I think he has maturity beyond his years for a young kid. He’s done a good job matriculating himself not only into the pro game but also his move into North America. He’s done a fine job.”
Nemec continues to play and have fun all while learning to live in another country away from friends and family. But he is guided by a deep calmness and poise that helps him forge ahead into uncharted territory. The road ahead is uncertain for any player. No one knows what tomorrow brings.
For Nemec, the path is a little more obvious: it leads to Newark, New Jersey.