Frank Nazar III will play a key role for the Michigan hockey team at center next season. Gabby Ceritano/Daily. Buy this photo.

PLYMOUTH, Mich. — When the Michigan hockey team’s season ended, its depth down the middle disappeared. With Matty Beniers, Johnny Beecher, Garrett Van Wyhe and Thomas Bordeleau moving on to pro careers, all four of the Wolverines’ centers were gone.

But a replacement has already emerged.

Incoming freshman Frank Nazar III is expected to fill a major role at center.

“It’s basically all (Michigan’s coaches and I) have talked about,” Nazar said at USA Hockey’s National Junior Evaluation Camp. “That’s what I want to play, that’s my best spot.”

And Nazar will come to Ann Arbor with experience. After a junior career spent at center for the United States National Team Development Program, he spent many games at the faceoff dot against college opponents during the Americans’ College Series exhibition games. In those games — including one against Michigan — he consistently found his way to the net through his quick skating.

Nazar’s skills have already captivated the Wolverines’ coaches.

“I think if you look at what he’s done to date, I think it’s gonna be a seamless transition for him into college hockey,” Michigan associate head coach Bill Muckalt said on June 21. “He’s gonna play a big role for us in every situation.”

Many of those skills came as a result of his time with the NTDP. 

He spent countless practices lining up against the likes of incoming Minnesota forward Logan Cooley — the first center selected in the 2022 NHL Draft — and incoming Boston College forward Cutter Gauthier, among others. Playing day in and day out against some of the best American centers in his age group raised the bar every day, and that level of competition could aid Nazar’s transition into the Wolverines’ system.

Working with top-rank teammates can only grow a player’s game so much, though, and Nazar has room to develop his game before stepping into a much-needed role for Michigan.

“(I’ve been) just working on showing up to each skate and kind of taking a summer just to build some weight up, build some strength,” Nazar said. “And all the on-ice portion is just more skill stuff and not really position wise.”

Although the training Nazar is completing can prepare him for the college game, he’ll likely have to glean some elements of his game through experience. Michigan’s lack of centers — and immediate need for someone to help fill that void — could speed up that acclimation, as the lack of established centers could offer him more ice time. While Nazar might learn tough lessons early on in his Michigan career by facing top opponents, he could also get plenty of minutes to put them into action.

There’s still more than two months until Nazar debuts for the Wolverines, but he’s already poised to be a key cog in the offense. And as he continues to work with USA Hockey at the National Junior Evaluation Camp, the same skills he’ll bring to Michigan are on showcase.