During his brief time in Hershey last season following his three-year career at the University of Minnesota, Nate Schmidt would walk the hallways of the Giant Center and see old photos of former Bears defensemen Mike Green, Karl Alzner and John Carlson.
“They’re in the background of those Calder Cup pictures,” said Schmidt, who is attending his first rookie camp with the Capitals after signing as a free agent last April. “Those guys made big strides when they were [in Hershey] and eventually they got called up and they stayed [in Washington]. That’s kind of where I want my journey to start.”
The Capitals lured Schmidt from Minnesota with a two-year contract that pays him $70,000 if he plays in the AHL and $925,000 if he plays in the NHL. The deal included a $185,000 signing bonus and carries a hefty $1.35 million cap hit if Schmidt plays for the Caps this season.
For now, it seems more likely Schmidt, a solid 6-foot, 195-pounder, will return to Hershey and build off a promising start to his pro career. In 13 games with the Bears, five of them in the playoffs, Schmidt picked up one goal and five assists and seemed to handle the pace of the AHL game very well.
“We really liked him in the summer camp last year [which Schmidt attended as a tryout] and we like the way he played in Minnesota [9 goals, 23 assists in 40 games as a junior],” Capitals general manager George McPhee said.
“We were really happy with him in the playoffs last year when he came in. That’s not easy for a young guy and he came in and played well. We have high hopes for him.”
Schmidt is expected to see his first game in a Caps jersey on Monday when the Flyers rookies visit Kettler for a 3 p.m. rookie game. The game will mark the conclusion of the Caps’ rookie camp, but Schmidt is likely to stick around for the start of the Caps’ training camp on Thursday.
“I’ll just be going out there trying not to screw up as much as possible,” Schmidt said. “You’ve got to stick to your game. If you get too star struck, you stop playing. You’ve got to leave being a fan at the door and be a player instead.”
At 22, Schmidt said he’s perfectly fine with continuing his pro career in Hershey, where he was forced to adapt to playing three games in three nights on weekends.
“In college it was a little bit of a country club compared to this,” Schmidt said. “We got to travel on a Thursday and play a couple weekend games and your body gets used to that.
“I think [last season] the mental aspect was more difficult than the physical. Guys are tired and run down in that third game and the guys who are mentally fresh have the advantage.”
Schmidt worked out this summer at the University of Minnesota, where he worked out with NHLers Paul Martin and Thomas Vanek and picked the brain of former Caps forward Matt Hendricks.
“He’s an unbelievable guy, a guy who literally earned every penny of his contract last year [with the Caps],” Schmidt said. “He could give me the inside scoop of what’s going on, how to handle myself around the older guys.”
Schmidt says he’s anxious about attending his first NHL training camp but admits being a little tentative about Wednesday’s grueling fitness testing.
“I was told to get lots of rest,” Schmidt said, ‘because you will hurt for a couple days.”