The 2023 version of our Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25 countdown list begins with a lanky, collegiate defensemen.
#23 Thimo Nickl, RHD
2022 Ranking: n/a
Age: 21 (DOB: December 4, 2001)
Acquired Via: trade with Anaheim
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 196 pounds
Though just 21-years old, defender Thimo Nickl has traveled an interesting and unique path already in his young life and career. He hails from Austria — not exactly a high-level hockey hotbed — so he’s had to leave home to advance his career. Nickl came across the pond and played in Quebec during his draft year of 2019-20, before the pandemic struck and turned life upside down for so many. The following season, Nickl went to Sweden where he got 15 games in that country’s top hockey league, the SHL. The last two years, Nickl has played in the Allsvenskan league, Sweden’s second tier (the AHL to their NHL, if you will).
Drafted initially by Anaheim, the Ducks traded Nickl’s NHL rights to Pittsburgh earlier in 2023. The Wilkes-Barre Penguins have signed Nickl to an AHL contract for 2023-24. Nickl will now look to work his way up the ranks and see how far it can take him.
Nickl’s work in the Q stands out and is what got him drafted. Per RecruitScouting.com, Nickl had the Nickl is ranked third highest primary points per 60 minutes among draft year defenseman during his year in the QMJHL. The same website gave this description and report in his game (which, mind you, comes from the 2019-20 days and is a little aged at this point):
Nickl finished fourth in points amongst DY Defenseman in the QMJHL, with 10 goals and 39 points. He is a defenseman with a good shot, stick and physical ability, but he also got many holes in his game, which can hopefully be corrected…
Thimo Nickl plays an aggressive game, which makes him a risk-taking defenseman. If an opportunity to jump to offense, recover a loose puck or make an open-ice hit presents itself, he will often go headfirst. This can lead to high-quality plays, but it also can be read by his opposition and work against him. His decision-making in his own zone needs some work, as he’s often caught juggling with the puck and trying to create something through the middle instead of using the sides of the ice.
Nickl was listed as an average skater, with a bit of a physical edge in his game. At 6’3”, 190ish pounds and a right-hand shot, he certainly possesses a lot of features in his frame and handedness that always attracts attention from pro clubs.
It will be interesting to see what Nickl has developed since the report above, with three seasons in Sweden under his belt. The Penguins will give him a chance at the AHL level to show if his skating, defending and all-around game is a fit for this level. If so, Nickl is still young enough to be signed to an NHL contract and be considered a real prospect with a decent future in the North American game.
However, sometimes for European prospect it goes the other way too, where their skillset might not quite work out at the AHL level and they disappear almost as quickly as they arrived back to a different league far away.
It’s not going to cost the Pens a lot to find out, and that’s a good thing. Nickl even experience playing against some NHL players (like Vancouver’s Conor Garland in his article’s headline image) for Austria at the recent 2023 World Championships. Playing for a small hockey country allows that kind of great opportunity to compete against some high-level players.
The next chapter for the already well-traveled Nickl is America. From Austria to Quebec to Sweden, the youngster has already seen a lot and made his way around the circuit. Now he faces the biggest challenge yet to attempt to work his way from the bottom floor of an NHL organization and see how far he can climb.