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Nazar scores in NHL debut with Blackhawks

Frank Nazar Frank Nazar - The Canadian Press

CHICAGO (AP) — With one dash up the middle of the ice, Frank Nazar provided a glimmer of hope for the Chicago Blackhawks at the end of another losing season.

Nazar scored on his first shot on goal in his NHL debut in Chicago's home finale against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.

Wearing No. 91, a smiling Nazar got a big cheer from the early arriving fans when he took the ice for his solo rookie lap ahead of warmups. He centered a line with Jason Dickinson and Joey Anderson.

After coming up empty on an early power-play opportunity, Nazar got a slick pass from Seth Jones and skated in on Pyotr Kochetkov for a breakaway. He beat Kochetkov on the goaltender's stick side 10:05 into the first period, sending a charge through the United Center crowd of 18,742.

“It was a nice play at the blue line,” Nazar said after Chicago's 4-2 loss. “I was able to go in and I was just kind of shooting for whatever's open.”

The 20-year-old Nazar, one of Chicago's top prospects, turned pro after Michigan lost 4-0 to Boston College in the Frozen Four on Thursday night. The 5-foot-10 forward agreed to a three-year contract that runs through the 2025-26 season at a $950,000 salary-cap hit.

“It was a really hard decision,” Nazar said. “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, and I know I made the right choice.”

Chicago is hoping Nazar becomes a key player in its ongoing rebuilding project. While Connor Bedard has lived up to the hype in his rookie year, the Blackhawks are 23-52-5 with two games left on their schedule.

Nazar, a Detroit native, was the No. 13 overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. He had 17 goals and 24 assists in 41 games in his last season with the Wolverines, including three game-winning goals.

“I thought he was really good,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. “Very aware, made some really nice plays out there, and very responsible, too. Above his check all over the place. Definitely had a really good first game.”

Chicago finishes its schedule with games at Vegas on Tuesday and Los Angeles on Thursday. But having Nazar making his debut against Carolina allows him to experience the atmosphere at home before next season.

“I think it’s a special place, and this is our last home game, so I think it’ll be really special for him and his family, which I’ve met and they’re great people,” Richardson said before the loss.

Nazar had 19 goals and 29 assists while appearing in 54 games for Michigan in two seasons. He also helped the U.S. win the 2024 world junior championship, recording eight assists in seven games.