Patrik Nemeth can carry himself with a serious demeanor at times. Fitting for a defensive defenseman. He also has a great sense of humor. When asked early in this year’s Calder Cup playoffs if he was modeling his game after anyone these days, Nemeth joked it was fellow Swede Erik Karlsson, the gifted offensive defenseman of the Ottawa Senators. A little bit of foreshadowing on Nemeth’s part.
The 22-year-old Nemeth looked like Karlsson Tuesday night as he scored a highlight reel goal off the rush in overtime of Game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals to give the Texas Stars their first Calder Cup championship in franchise history.
That Nemeth sense of humor was on display again Thursday during an interview on the NHL Network. The question: what was he thinking on that goal?
“I don’t know,” Nemeth said. “I don’t know what happened. Maybe I had a blackout or something.”
This isn’t the first time Nemeth has come up big in overtime in a big game. He had the primary assist on the overtime-winner in the gold medal game at the 2012 World Junior Championship as Sweden defeated Russia, 1-0. Just seconds after leading the rush into the offensive zone, Nemeth forced a neutral zone turnover that set up Mika Zibanejad’s game-winner for Sweden.
But despite those two memorable offensive moments, the 6-3, 235-pound Nemeth is a guy who leans towards the defensive side of things, something he showed over the course of this season while playing for both Texas and the Dallas Stars.
“I just try to keep it simple,” Nemeth said. “I want to play good with the puck, good transition, be smart with the puck. I want to be hard to play against, defense first. But when the chances are coming, I want to create some offense, too.”
The Stars saw those defensive attributes and more when they drafted him out of Sweden in the second round (41st overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft. He had played four years of professional hockey in Sweden before coming to North America to play for Texas in 2012-13. He’s been slowed by injuries at times – a concussion last season and a foot injury this season – but Nemeth has tried to make the best of the down time.
“I missed a lot of games, but at the same time you realize that you have to work hard and when I’ve been out I’ve been able to work on other stuff, upper body strength and conditioning,” Nemeth said. “Some good things come with it, but it has been frustrating.”
Despite the injuries and missed playing time, the Dallas Stars and Texas Stars liked what they’ve seen from Nemeth over his first two seasons in North America.
“Nemeth was playing really well last year until he got injured and this year again he got his game together. He’s always trying to improve, find a way,” said Texas coach Willie Desjardins. “He’s a big strong player, physical player. He defends well. From the start of last year he’s taken big steps and it’s because of his attitude toward the game and how he works at it.”
The work in Cedar Park paid off when Nemeth got his first crack at the NHL this season. Dallas called up Nemeth in late March and he made his NHL debut on April 1 at Washington. He played eight regular season games with Dallas and then five more in their first round playoff series with Anaheim. Dallas coach Lindy Ruff liked what he saw.
“He’s been a solid defender,” Ruff said during the Anaheim series. “He’s got good size. Physically he’s strong. I just think he has tremendous upside. He’s playing at a good level now in how many NHL games? Maybe eight or nine, something like that, so he puts a smile on your face, that kid, he really does.”
Desjardins said he expected Nemeth to show well at the NHL level.
“It didn’t surprise me just because of how he plays,” said Desjardins. “He recognizes his game. He recognizes his strengths and weaknesses. The good thing about Nemeth is that he is always trying to improve on his weaknesses. He is continually trying to get better in different parts of his game. That’s what you want from a player. You want guys who are always trying to improve.”
For Nemeth, the NHL time was what he had been working for over the past two seasons. It may have come sooner if not for the injuries. But it was a shot of confidence for the young blue liner, who came in during the middle of a playoff race.
“The experienced helped me. It was high pressure with trying to make the playoffs and then the playoffs against good players,” he said. “I had the same role up there that I had down here. I tried not to think too much and just played. I learned a lot.”
Once Dallas’ playoff run ended there was still more hockey for Nemeth. He returned to Cedar Park, and jumped into the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. He was paired with rookie Jyrki Jokipakka, a Dallas draft pick out of Finland. Nemeth flashed a little more of that humor when explaining why the two clicked as a pair.
“He’s European,” Nemeth said. “We understand each other.”
Those two were a solid pair as Texas won its final three series against Grand Rapids, Toronto and St. John’s. Nemeth’s Calder Cup winning goal was his only tally of the playoffs. He also had four assists and a plus-five rating in 18 games.
“It was a great feeling,” Nemeth said. “I didn’t score a goal in the playoff run and to score that goal in overtime was huge. It was a great feeling.”
The playoff performance capped a solid season for Nemeth, who is in a good position to land a roster spot in Dallas next season.
“Patrik really had a strong season. He showed it at the end in Dallas that he is right around the NHL,” said Dallas Stars assistant GM Les Jackson. “He’s made huge steps. He’s been healthy the last little while. He’s matured in a lot of different ways, he’s taken a leadership role down there. He carries heavy minutes and he does a lot of good things.”
And as he showed in Game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals, he’s capable of spectacular things now and then, too.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.