Names To Know: Frank Nazar's Kent Johnson-esque Game Could Tempt The Columbus Blue Jackets Into A Second Straight Summer Of Drafting Wolverines

By Ed Francis on May 23, 2022 at 7:05 am
A Michigan commitment, Frank Nazar could tempt the Columbus Blue Jackets into going to the Wolverine well for a second straight summer.
Jenae Photos

Another day, another installment of 'Names To Know', a look-ahead at prospects that the Columbus Blue Jackets are certain to be looking into in advance of July's NHL Draft.

With two of the first dozen selections — picks #6 and #12 overall — no team has a higher second selection than the Blue Jackets. There are plenty of names to be considered ahead of the July 7 date in this wide-open draft. 

So far, we've looked at the profiles of power forwards (Conor Geekie), curious cases (Ivan Miroschnichenko), and the best defensemen in the draft (Simon Nemec and David Jiricek). 

The last time Frank Nazar didn't average more than a point a game, the sample size was teeny-tiny: he scored three goals and added two assists in just seven games with the Oshawa Generals Selects U15 team. That wasn't that long ago — Nazar, born in 2004, accrued those figures in the 2018-19 season. But despite tougher competition, the Michigan native and Wolverine commitment has put up more impressive stat lines as time has gone on, and has become the kind of talent that the Blue Jackets may not be able to wait until #12 to claim.

Nazar's commitment to Michigan and playmaking ability rightfully draws comparisons to Kent Johnson, the Blue Jackets first selection (5th overall) in the 2021 NHL Draft. While smaller (5'10") than Johnson (6'1"), both players are 175lbs soaking wet and are in the process of growing into their bodies and bulking up to handle the rigors that come with being an NHL forward. 

In drafting Nazar, Columbus would be acquiring a player who is thought to be one of the best skaters in the draft. He's fast, yes, but Nazar also has the intelligence and the wherewithal to know exactly where to be on the ice. From Smaht Scouting:

Perhaps one of the more notable features of Nazar’s talented skating ability is when he’s wheeling around the offensive zone looking for an avenue to distribute the puck. If he isn’t thrilled with any of the presented options, he puts his edgework to the test by walking the blueline with equally impressive amounts of control and pace. After a short time, Nazar’s able to find and deliver a quality pass to a teammate, as his efficiency wearing down defenders proved successful.

Nazar’s skating prowess is the catalyst for the most impressive aspects of his game. It gives him the ability to frustrate opponents in all areas of the ice, while at the same time making it very difficult to defend against without leaving gaps in coverage.

This skating ability has been a catalyst in Nazar's huge numbers — even with the increase in the competition's ability. In 24 games with the USA Hockey National Team's Junior Development Program in the 2021-22 season, Nazar had 15 goals and added 20 assists in just 24 games. Most recently, he posted a six-game stat line of 3-6-9 for Team USA in the U-18 World Junior Championships. 

Skating ability and speed can only take a player so far, though. Nazar is a top prospect in this draft because he can combine those two strengths with a keen shooting ability and above-average puck-handling. These are the same strengths that made Johnson a top-five pick by the Blue Jackets last summer. In fact, one of the few differences between the two players is that, while both have incredible vision, Nazar may have a slight edge in goal-scoring ability and projects long-term as more of a winger than center, while Johnson projects as an up-the-middle type with the ability to put up gaudy assist totals.

Speaking of scoring goals, take a look at the collection of goals below — Nazar's meshing of the above-mentioned skills brings a level of craftiness to his game that shows exactly why he's all but a lock to go in the first half of the first round this July.

With Nazar's draft stock steadily on the rise over the last year, he now heads to Ann Arbor this fall to join up with the Wolverines' powerhouse hockey program. If general manager Jarmo Kekalainen gets him, the Columbus faithful may have another winter of keeping close tabs on Michigan hockey.

Mock Draft Results 13th
Tankathon 9th
The Athletic 14th
The Hockey Writers 14th
My NHL Draft 6th
The Sporting News 8th