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Frank Nazar scores on first shot in NHL debut with Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO (AP) — Welcome to the NHL, Frank Nazar.

Nazar scored on his first shot on goal in his debut with the Chicago Blackhawks in the team'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 at the beginning of the game, but coach Luke Richardson said they might take a look at a couple different combinations.

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.

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.

The arrival of Nazar offers a hopeful note for Chicago at the end of another difficult season. While Connor Bedard lived up to the hype in his rookie year, the Blackhawks carried a 23-51-5 record into the matchup with the Hurricanes.

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.

“We know his level, so we have no problem putting him at this level,” Richardson said before the game. “It’s going to be a lot of information for him today. ... We don’t need for him to do anything extra special, let it happen and when he gets into a position where it’s wide open, he’ll see it because he’s a good player.”

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. “They’re going to be able to get here with the proximity, which is great, and to see the national anthem and the energy in this building. When there’s a new player, I think all the guys on the team elevate their awareness and they really look forward and encourage them and help them out. I’m looking forward to seeing that, too.”

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.

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

Jay Cohen, The Associated Press