The New York Rangers have played their first five games in the regular season, and oddly enough each game has had a relatively unique roster. Much of the players we saw last year are still with the squad in 2021-22, but there are a fair number of new names now wearing Rangers blue as well. The team made several offseason moves this past summer, acquiring players via trade and free agency. Some of those players came to New York with a big reputation, or as the return of a not-so-popular trade. However, there was one player signed who will be a staple on this roster that flew under most everyone’s radar. That player is defenseman Patrik Nemeth.
The 37th player in New York Rangers history to wear number 12, Nemeth was signed to a three-year contract averaging $2.5 million per year. Tom wrote a great article back when he was first signed, but as a depth defenseman in the NHL, the question still remains: Who is Patrik Nemeth?
Patrik Nemeth was born on February 8th, 1992, in Stockholm, Sweden. He first put on a pair of skates when he was two years old, shortly joining organized hockey four years later. Since he grew up idolizing Peter Forsberg it’s doubtful if anyone could have guessed he’d turn into a defensive defenseman.
As a teenager, Nemeth primarily played for AIK in the Swedish junior leagues. Something to understand about these leagues in Sweden is they are not formatted like any of the junior leagues in North America. Teams in the top professional leagues — such as AIK — will often create developmental programs separated by age tiers under their own name in junior leagues. For instance, the J18 leagues feature players under 18 years old and the J20 leagues feature… well, I think you get the picture here. These junior leagues function as a type of feeder league for their professional-level teams.
In the 2008-09 season, as a 16-year-old, he started off with AIK’s J18 team which played well enough to advance into the winter season. In the J18 Elit league, the top five teams from each division advance into what is called the J18 Allsvenskan, which then unfolds into the playoffs. His physical play helped bolster his team to win the championship that season. Nemeth clearly made enough of an impression to earn his first call up to the parent AIK team in the Hockey Allsvenskan league, where he played only one game and registered one assist. It was around this time of his life that his parents began to realize his pursuit of professional hockey was very much a reality.
“I have that feeling since he was 15-16. But I’m his mom. He worked hard on the ice and outside the ice. I thought he was capable…Patrik would say when he was five, I’m going to play hockey in the NHL.” (NHL.com)
The following year, in the 2009-10 season, his strong play continued to impress as he spent most of the season with AIK’s J20 team, which is considered the highest level of junior ice hockey in Sweden. He was then called up to AIK’s parent team once again, helping the team secure a promotion to Sweden’s top professional league, then known as the Elitserien or the Swedish Elite League.
Nemeth made a name for himself playing a tough, physical style for AIK that was not often seen in the European junior leagues. On two occasions he led his division in penalty minutes in both the J18 and J20 leagues. He was ranked as the 11th best player on the Central Scouting Bureau’s final rankings for European skaters in his draft year. Funnily enough, this was 21 spots higher than Artemiy Panarin. Nemeth ended up as the first European defenseman drafted in the 2010 draft, taken by the Dallas Stars at 41st overall.
Returning to AIK, he played his first full season with the team in Sweden’s top professional league. They were able to qualify for the playoffs and successfully fight off relegation back down to a lower-level league. The next year, he signed a contract with the Dallas Stars but was loaned back to AIK where he would play his last season in Sweden to date.
It was during this last season where Nemeth would represent his country on the international stage once again. During his junior career, Nemeth won several medals representing Sweden in international tournaments, but the 2012 World Junior team proved to be the most fruitful. Not only did he make the team, but he played an important defensive role—and even assisted on Mika Zibanejad’s golden goal. Number 12 for Sweden in the video below back checks tenaciously, knocking the puck loose for Zibanejad and the rest is history. Hey, maybe the chemistry will carry over.
Introduction to North American Hockey
Nemeth crossed the Atlantic for the 2012-13 season, playing 47 games for the Dallas Stars AHL affiliate, Texas Stars. He started off the next season once again with the AHL club but earned a call-up near the end of the year. Nemeth got his first glimpse of the NHL in eight regular-season games and then played in five playoff games as the Dallas Stars were eliminated in the first round. Dallas then sent him back to the AHL to help the Texas Stars in their own post-season pursuit to capture the Calder Cup.
This defenseman not known for his offensive production ended up playing a pivotal role for the AHL team. His steady physical play helped the team advance as he scored 5 points in 18 games. However, one of those points — Nemeth’s only goal in the postseason — was the championship-clinching goal in overtime for the Texas Stars. Even the Stars’ head coach, Willie Desjardins, was surprised, mistaking Nemeth for the eventual playoff MVP and only player to have his jersey retired in Texas Stars history.
“I thought it was (Travis) Morin when he went to the backhand like that, I thought it had to be Morin since I knew he was on the ice, too,” Stars head coach Willie Desjardins said. “That’s such a good move I didn’t even think it could be him at first.” (Eurohockey.com)
This isn’t the first time Nemeth has been involved in winning the game for his team when the stakes were high, and hopefully, it won’t be the last.
In 2014-2015, things were beginning to look quite promising for the then 22-year-old defenseman, having made the Dallas squad in training camp and settling into a role. In just the fifth game of the season, however, disaster struck. Playing the Philadelphia Flyers, Nemeth started the game and in his first shift, only 23 seconds in, a routine play went awry.
Nemeth knocked RJ Umberger off the puck, and they awkwardly collided into the boards together. Umberger’s skate came up high and sliced through Nemeth’s arm severing his tendons. The benches reacted as play stopped and Nemeth left the game immediately. His injuries ultimately required surgery, and the very next day it was announced that he would be done for the year. Many expressed concerns about him continuing his career at all. Surprisingly, much later that season Nemeth’s rehabilitation was well ahead of schedule, and he ended up returning and playing games for both the AHL and NHL clubs.
Over the next few years, Nemeth never quite carved out a permanent role for himself in Dallas. He went back and forth between the AHL and NHL each season before being placed on waivers. He was then claimed by the Colorado Avalanche, and it was with the Avalanche that he finally asserted himself as a full-time NHL defenseman.
In his first game with the Avalanche, Nemeth assisted on the very first goal of their season. Oddly enough, this was against the New York Rangers. Why? Because that is just how these things work. Just as former Rangers score freely against the team, future Rangers receive a boon too of course. Reviewing his first full season with his new team, Nemeth led the Avalanche in plus/minus with a +27, and while this statistic has lost its weight over the years, it still suggests he was doing something right. On top of this, Nemeth also lead his team in shots blocked. In fact, he was in the top five in the NHL while playing the least number of games out of the five players on that list.
As the young Avalanche began surging the following year, Nemo (the name adorned by his fans) found himself slipping on Colorado’s depth chart. This was even more clear when a young Cale Makar joined the team in the 2018-19 postseason. Out of the seven defensemen carried in the Avalanche’s unexpected playoff run, Nemeth averaged the least number of minutes and the least games played. With the writing on the wall, that summer Nemeth left Colorado and signed with the Detroit Redwings in free agency.
In his brief one-and-a-half-year stint with the Redwings, Nemeth slid right into a top-four role. He performed admirably on an inarguably terrible team. While Detroit finished last in the league his first season, Nemeth finished with a 48.5% Corsi at even strength — which is almost a full 3 points above the team average. Nemeth’s Corsi percentage becomes even more impressive when we examine his usage with the team.
Considering only players playing more than 60 games that season, Nemeth had the second-highest average time on ice as well as the second-highest defensive zone start percentage. This means the majority of the time — 60.3% of the time — the faceoff was in the defensive end and Nemeth was either already on the ice or put on the ice for the faceoff. To carry as high of a Corsi percentage as he did on such an underwhelming roster — while starting that often in the defensive zone — speaks volumes of his contributions to the Detroit Redwings.
In 2020-21 the Redwings realized they had an asset on their hands with Nemeth and his expiring contract. As they were destined to once again miss the playoffs, they traded him back to the Avalanche just three days before the deadline. He played in 13 regular season games and 10 playoff games for Colorado. He was brought back to supply depth and play a gritty bottom-four role while also playing on the penalty kill. Starting off strong in round one, it was the second series against the Golden Knights where Nemeth struggled.
He made a few egregious errors that resulted in the puck going into the back of the net and took three penalties throughout the series, essentially negating his PK impact. After losing in the second round, Patrik Nemeth once again found himself as a free agent.
What to expect with NYR
As the New York Rangers elected to move on from DeAngelo and Smith, it became obvious there was a hole in their defensive depth. Their top four was pretty much set with Lindgren/Fox and Miller/Trouba, but it’s that last pair that was really the question mark throughout the offseason. Enter Nemeth. Known as a stay-at-home defenseman, but with a good first pass, Nemeth should slot in quite nicely.
As Nemeth hails from Sweden, it could be his nationality that endeared him to the Rangers front office. Amidst all the current drama and questionable lack of support for their top prospects it’s a comforting thought to think he was brought in to potentially help a young Nils Lundkvist acclimate to North America and the NHL while hopefully playing on his left side. Acting as a mentor to the young defenseman could prove to be a success if their styles of play mesh well. Lundkvist — considered to be a more offensive and cerebral player — may just benefit from Nemeth’s stay-at-home motto. This would not be the first time the Rangers have tried this, anchoring Fox with Lindgren a couple of years prior, and as we all know that experiment has worked wonders. Argue all you’d like about how Fox would be a star playing with literally anyone, but that is not the point here. Nemeth’s presence could bring about familiarity and success for Lundkvist.
Nemeth is expected to be a mainstay on the penalty kill and it’s a sure-fire bet that either he or Lindgren will lead the team in blocked shots. The 6’4” defenseman is a big, physical player that is not afraid to go into the dirty spots and battle for the puck. It’s perhaps this trait that initially put him on Drury’s radar, with the off-season strategy of getting tougher. Nemeth will have to focus on staying out of the penalty box, however, as that has detracted from his value to his former teams.
Patrik Nemeth is a solid depth defensive defender, but he takes /a lot/ of penalties, especially for someone expected to play the PK.— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) October 13, 2021
While it wouldn’t be exactly logical to place a bet on Nemeth scoring a big-time goal for the Rangers, looking back at his track record you just may never know. Perhaps there is another golden goal somewhere in his future.