Patrik Nemeth quickly became a monster at the AHL level. After most of two seasons in the NHL's main development league, the young Swede impressed the Dallas Stars' organization enough to earn himself a late season call-up when Stephane Robidas was traded to the Anaheim Ducks.
He arrived on the scene at a critical time in the season and with a lot of fanfare. He was described as a guy who just didn't let opponents score. He was lauded as a mean, nasty, defensively responsible rock—a type of player that hasn't been seen around these parts in quite some time. The last two iterations of the intense and nasty young defender in the Stars lineup were Mark Fistric and Nicklas Grossmann. The former, while plenty mean, has trouble keeping up with the NHL game and the latter never learned how to use his body for meanness.
Stars fans were rightly excited to have a player on the backend who could be relied on to consistently clear the crease, outmuscle opponents along the boards and break up defensive zone time. On a team with a lot of small, speedy defenders, Nemeth provided something new and valuable.
Nemeth soon quelled any doubts about his readiness for the NHL game. Playing mostly on the third defensive pair with Sergei Gonchar, he quickly settled alongside the veteran Russian, albeit in relatively sheltered minutes for the both of them. Nemeth wasn't afraid to use his body and quickly showed that both his hockey sense and body were ready to take on NHL competition.
While his numbers weren't flashy by any means, one indicator of how well Nemeth performed is that he played more than 19 minutes in two playoff games. Yes, Brenden Dillon's injury factored into this. However, the fact that he was trusted more than Rome, Gonchar, and Connauton—all of whom were higher on Dallas' depth chart—after just eight regular season games speaks volumes of the impression he made on Lindy Ruff.
Nemeth's position on this list can be attributed to the fact that he only played 14 total games in the NHL last season and is the tip of a young defenseman iceberg on its way up from the AHL. However, if he continues to play like he did at the end of last season, he should have a roster spot all but locked up.
At the same time, it's important to reign in our excitement. It's natural to do this with prospects—we see how they've played at lower levels and look at their NHL comparables and then we get very excited and start praising them as great players before they've done anything of note in the NHL.
Nemeth is a great prospect. He's a new kind of player for this roster, and he didn't seem to have many growing pains during his call-up. However, he will start the season as a third pairing defenseman at best, and will most likely be given the most sheltered minutes on the team to start. On top of that, there's a good chance he stays on the third pairing in that more sheltered role for at least the whole season. That's not a knock against Nemeth; that's just how things go for most rookies—especially defensemen.
Patrik Nemeth is an important addition to the Stars roster. He's a big and nasty defensive defenseman who knocks players off the puck and away from the crease. He played a calm, collected, very good all around game at the end of last season and looks to carry that style of play into his first full NHL season. At the same time, it's important to remember that he will be a rookie. There will be ups and downs, but next year is about growth for Nemeth.