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Mighty Max ‘good at everything’

Published Tuesday, June 24, 2008, 12:01 a.m. under 2008 Draft Coverage

You won’t catch many scouts saying bad things about Max Nicastro. But there’s a catch: You won’t catch many raving about him, either.

Nicastro is a right-shooting defenseman who can best be described as a jack of all trades, master of none. And that’s not such a bad thing — you can carve a seasoned NHL veteran out of a guy like that.

As Detroit Red Wings veteran amateur scout Mark Leach put it, “I don’t think he has one unbelievable asset, but he’s good at everything.”

The Red Wings drafted the 6-foot-2, 189-pounder from Thousand Oaks, Calif., with their second pick, 90th overall, in Saturday’s NHL draft.

Nicastro is coming off a solid year with the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League. He earned top-pairing minutes under the guidance of former NHL defenceman Steve Poapst, collecting six goals and 14 assists in 58 games.

He is headed to Boston University in 2009 after another season in Chicago, meaning the Red Wings have five full years to sign him.

“He’s a No. 4 or 5 type of guy,” Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said. “He won’t be a big offensive guy, but he moves the puck smart and safe, he can play the power play but he’s not a big point producer. He’s got good size and he competes hard defensively. He’s a well-rounded defenseman.”

Nicastro spent his primary development years playing hockey in the Los Angeles area, which is not exactly a hockey hotbed. Understandably, the 18-year-old got off to a tentative start in his USHL rookie campaign.

But as the season progressed, the Red Wings watched him get more and more comfortable, and he finished the year a plus-7.

“He plays a willing physical game and isn’t afraid to step up on guys,” said Red Wings amateur scout David Kolb, who focuses on the USHL. “His defensive game should only improve as he gains strength and grows into his body. He has a pretty good frame to work with and has room to get bigger.”

It’s not very often a player from California makes it to the NHL, so the Red Wings are banking on Nicastro to be part of changing that trend. He could take a big leap next season, as he is expected to be the No. 1 blueliner in Chicago and receive heavy power-play minutes. Then, he’s off to college.

If Nicastro can develop his game in a single area — by taking charge offensively or developing a nasty streak — he could find a real niche.

“We feel optimistic that he has the tools to become more of a factor with the puck down the road,” Kolb said. “If everything falls into place, the hope is that he could some day be a top-four defenceman at the NHL level.”

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