Frank Nazar reaches over Jimmy Lambert’s stick for the hockey puck.
Frank Nazar led a cast of four Wolverines named to NHL Central Scouting's final North American skaters list. Gabby Ceritano/Daily.  Buy this photo.

While nothing is certain until the NHL Draft, experts project that the Michigan hockey team’s incoming freshman class includes multiple top-100 picks.

NHL Central Scouting’s final 2022 rankings placed forwards Frank Nazar and Rutger McGroarty and defenseman Seamus Casey — all incoming freshmen for the Wolverines — among the top 30 North American skaters. After playing the previous season with the US National Team Development Program, all three could be first round picks when the NHL Draft starts on July 7.

Nazar and McGroarty — who are ranked 21st and 22nd on the North American skaters list, respectively — fell compared to their midterm rankings. However, they showed plenty of upside during the past few months.

Both showed their capabilities in the 2022 U18 World Junior Championship when they helped Team USA earn a silver medal. McGroarty showed off his knack for scoring to the tune of eight goals over six games. Two of those came in the gold medal game against Sweden.

Nazar projects as a high-motor forward for the Wolverines, and like McGroarty, he is no stranger to filling the box score. He finished the NTDP’s U18 season third on the roster with 70 points, two of which came in his impressive performance at Yost Ice Arena back in February. Unselfish play drives much of his scoring — something Michigan saw at Yost when he deferred a 2-on-0 breakaway to his teammate with a hat trick on the line.

“I figured I would have a better chance than just the breakaway,” Nazar said after the game on Feb. 2. “I heard him screaming and I was like ‘I’ll get him involved in the play.’ I wasn’t really thinking too much (about a) ‘hat trick.’ It was just more of ‘let’s score’ so we could go up by two and kind of close the game out.”

That humble mindset isn’t the only strength of Nazar’s play. He and McGroarty rarely give up on the forecheck, and they constantly stay active away from the play. That relentless motor could amount to teams taking risks on them higher in the draft.

Just squeaking into the list at 29th, Casey is the 10th highest defenseman on the North American list. Although he isn’t as offensively gifted as others in his class, Casey is an aggressive defender who owns the corners when he takes the ice. 

Paired with Ohio State commit Tyler Duke for much of the NTDP season, Casey excels at the physical aspects of his position despite being a bit undersized. While offensive woes might cause him to slip into the second round, Casey should be a major contributor in Michigan’s defense corps next season.

In terms of players currently on the roster, freshman forward Mark Estapa claimed the 205th spot on the list, projected as a seventh-round pick in July. His physical presence facilitates offensive breaks for his linemates.

“Mark Estapa (is) heavy down low, great supporting the puck, great for getting energy and, you know, he can score too,” fifth-year senior forward Mike Pastujov said on March 21 when discussing the role Estapa played on his line. “… It’s his first year, so he’s kind of forming into the system, and he’s kind of getting the hang of it now.”

Regardless of when teams select Michigan’s players — incoming and current — in the NHL Draft, next year’s roster is seemingly full of talent and potential. Players’ selection in the draft will only add buzz to what projects as a heavy freshman class — including highly touted 2023 draft-eligible skaters Adam Fantilli and Hunter Brzustewicz.

While one generation of first round draft picks left Michigan this offseason, the next is well on its way.