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Blackhawks' Frank Nazar provides glimpse of NHL future in memorable debut

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Chicago Blackhawks top prospect Frank Nazar officially turned pro on Saturday after signing a three-year, entry-level contract with the team that drafted him with the No. 13 overall selection in 2022.

And in a fun turn of events, Nazar was thrown right into the fire on Sunday against Carolina and made his NHL debut in Chicago's home finale. It didn't disappoint.

On just his fourth shift of the game, Nazar scored on his first career NHL shot and let out a sweet celebration. The United Center erupted.

"It was a nice play at the blue line," Nazar said. "I was able to go in and I was kind of shooting for whatever was open."

The last 72 hours have admittedly been a blur for Nazar, who looked a little drained after Sunday's game.

"Pretty hectic, honestly," Nazar said. "From being at the Frozen Four to flying in last night and then figuring out I was playing today was really crazy. I'm a little exhausted but it was a blast."

Nazar said his decision to leave Michigan after his sophomore season to turn pro was "a really hard decision." But he has no regrets.

"Me and my family had to put things together, pros and cons, and just look at what we needed to look at and it just all came down to what was best," Nazar said. "I know I made the right choice."

Nazar had a terrific season at Michigan, where he racked up 41 points (17 goals, 24 assists) in 41 games. He also represented Team USA at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship, where he produced eight assists in seven games and helped his country win a gold medal.

Nazar recorded only seven points (two goals, five assists) in 13 games last season after missing the majority of the campaign with an injury. He said he didn't really start feeling like himself again until halfway through this season.

"After World Juniors, I think that's when confidence started to come back and started to feel more like I could take over and just make plays," Nazar said.

It showed in the second half of Nazar's season at Michigan, and it probably won't be too long before he's doing the same in the NHL.

Outside of the goal, Nazar played with pace and didn't look out of place against an elite Hurricanes team. He's a smooth skater, confident in his skin, and is as competitive as they come.

"Frank was really good," Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said following a 4-2 loss. "I really liked his game tonight. Really happy for him. ... Unfortunately we didn’t get the win but definitely some bright spots there."

There was some extra energy in the building on Sunday because of Nazar's debut. He received loud cheers during his rookie solo lap. They were even louder when he was announced as a starter. And the roof almost fell off when he scored the goal and public address announcer Gene Honda announced it to the crowd.

"He's unreal," Lukas Reichel said of Nazar. "He's so fast and a really skilled player. He had a good celly too. It was a good game by him. It's good to see him get his first goal.

"We were excited. Anyone remembers his first NHL game, it's a dream come true, so it's really exciting for the team. He played an unreal game."

With Connor Bedard established as the franchise cornerstone, Kevin Korchinski developing into a top-pairing defenseman, Alex Vlasic solidifying himself as a potential core player, Reichel slowly finding his game again, and Nazar providing a small glimpse of what's to come, the future looks bright in Chicago.

While it's no guarantee he'll be a full-time NHL player next season, Nazar is going to benefit from turning pro so he can start preparing how to handle a full 82-game regular-season schedule. And eventually, playoffs.

"Definitely getting that full pro season under my belt is going to be great," Nazar said. "I just know I'm going to have a great summer of workouts and training so I can come in better than I am today."

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