Since the Carolina Hurricanes acquired him from Calgary and assigned him to Charlotte on Monday, the 22-year-old forward has been in a period of transitional limbo. As a Canadian player who had not previously worked outside of Canada – the Flames’ AHL affiliate, where he’s spent most of his four professional seasons, is in Abbotsford, British Columbia – a few days of necessary paperwork blocked his entry into the U.S.
Enter the country he has, as of 9 a.m. Friday morning and another delay in the form of a canceled flight from Toronto the night before. It’s good timing, as a likely re-aggravation of Jared Staal’s injury against Texas on Thursday night meant the Checkers were likely to be a man down for Friday’s rematch.
Nemisz’ debut will be the short-term conclusion of an unusual week for the versatile forward, who was able to work in the U.S. many times previously as a visiting player, just not when he actually worked for a U.S. team until today.
“The biggest thing was just staying ready,” said Nemisz, who awoke from a post-practice nap to learn that the Flames had swapped him for Carolina forward Kevin Westgarth on Monday. “My old (junior) coach from Windsor is now the head coach in Oshawa, so I was able to practice with them (Thursday) and spend some time in the gym the day before.”
Beyond the time spent waiting north of the border, Nemisz is also hoping that new surroundings can kick start what he felt was a stagnating career. A first-round pick in 2008 (25th overall by Calgary), Nemisz has played a total of just 15 NHL games in the six years since and none since the 2011-12 season.
“I feel like I had stalled a bit in Abbotsford,” he said. “Being there for four years, I don’t think I was progressing, so this is really exciting.”
Nemisz considers himself a physical two-way forward and said he is happy about the defensive side of his game, but what immediately pops out when looking at his statistics is his relative lack of scoring. After posting 248 points (115g, 133a) in 246 games as part of a powerhouse Windsor team that won two Memorial Cups as Canadian junior champions, he has 81 (35g, 46a) in 174 AHL games, with his totals declining in each of his first three seasons.
After scoring 10 points in a campaign marred by groin and hip problems last season, Nemisz found himself on a depth role on this year’s Abbotsford team. As it stands now, it’s possible he may get more of an opportunity, particularly with Zach Boychuk and Brett Sutter away on NHL duty.
“He showed in junior that he can produce some points,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “We’ll let his play determine where he ends up.”
Nemisz echoed that sentiment, saying the first part of his Checkers tenure would be a “feeling out process.” Beyond his role, that also extends to his position. A center growing up, he has played most of his pro career on the wing, including all of this season with the exception of the odd mid-game tinker by the Heat’s coaching staff.
“He said he’s played all three (forward positions) and is comfortable with any of them, so that’s good to know,” said Daniels.
With Staal officially doubtful for Friday per Daniels, the immediate hole in the lineup is the fourth line’s right wing, though circumstances have dictated enough shuffling in recent weeks to make just about anything possible. The Checkers held an optional morning skate on Friday, offering no further clues.
Potentially helping chemistry is that Nemisz knows several Checkers forwards from previous stops. He’s trained with Brody Sutter in the past and knows Brett Sutter, still in Carolina, from rookie camps when the two were both still Calgary prospects. He’s also trained with Chris Terry, but he most closely knows Justin Shugg when the two were teammates on those championship teams in Windsor.
In the 2009-10 season, the Spitfires’ top four scorers, in order, were Edmonton Oilers star and 2010 first-overall draft pick Taylor Hall, Shugg, New Jersey Devils forward and 2010 NHL Rookie of the Year finalist Adam Henrique, and Nemisz.
Shugg and Nemisz have kept in touch since.
“He’s a good friend and one of the first people I contacted after the trade,” said Nemisz.
That should help with the comfort level, something Nemisz is hoping to find long-term within the Carolina organization.
“It’s a fresh start, and it’s really exciting,” he said.