Oates settling in during first full offseason with Caps
Now that the Capitals’ weeklong development camp is over and players have lugged their equipment bags back to their summer residences, we’re taking a look back at the impressions left by a handful of Caps’ prospects and what lies ahead for each.
Today: Defenseman Nate Schmidt
When it comes to saying goodbye to the University of Minnesota and writing the next chapter of his hockey career, Nate Schmidt doesn’t pull any punches.
“It was fun,” he says of his days as a Gopher. “I had a great time.
“But I’m really looking forward to starting my professional career. I got a chance to dip my toes in it at the end of the year [eight games with the Hershey Bears]. Now it’s just the next chapter of my hockey career and hopefully I can build a mighty book out of it.”
Schmidt, who turns 22 on Tuesday, was one of the most experienced players invited to the Caps’ development camp.
A hard-hitting, hard-skating, puck-moving defenseman with a heavy, accurate shot, Schmidt was signed by the Caps as a free agent in April, agreeing to a two-year, two-way contract that pays him $70,000 if he plays with the AHL Bears and $925,000 if he plays with the Capitals. The deal, which expires after the upcoming season, included a $185,000 signing bonus, which puts Schmidt’s cap number at $1.35 million.
It was a nice payday for the St. Cloud native, who went undrafted in 2009 despite recording 45 points in 25 games as a senior in high school.
“The whole undrafted thing kind of hurt at first,” Schmidt said, “but it ended up being a blessing in disguise. It kind of gave me a little kick in the rear end. It all turned out for the best.”
When he arrived at Minnesota, Schmidt said he was one of only a handful of players who was not drafted by an NHL team.
“It all comes down to believing in yourself,” he said. “When I first walked into U of M the entire team was drafted except for three guys. But once you realize you can play with those guys it just goes out the window.”
Schmidt played in just 13 games in his first year at Minnesota but earned a regular spot in the lineup the following year. In his final two seasons he recorded 12 goals and 61 assists in 83 games.
That was enough to earn him team MVP honors and for the Caps to sign him and put him right into the Bears’ lineup, where he recorded a goal and three assists in eight regular season games and another two assists in five playoff games.
“I think the smartness and the hockey sense are probably the biggest adjustments,” Schmidt said of the jump from college hockey to the pro game. “The game slows down because players are so smart and can make better plays. I think it’s more of a mental game here on out.”
At 6-foot, 197 pounds, Schmidt has relied on his speed throughout most of his career but admitted he’ll need some work on his positioning before considering himself ready for the NHL.
“At this very moment I have work to do,” he said. “At this stage of the summer I can’t say I’m in the best shape. But I think I’m close. There are things to my game that I can bring that really help a team and there are parts of my game I need to elevate in order to be on par with the rest of the league.”
Schmidt used Mike Green, who is 6-foot-1, 207 pounds, as an example.
“There are big, strong guys in the NHL and you just have to make sure your positioning is right,” he said. “You see Mike Green out there. He might not be the biggest guy, but he’s always in the right position to make those plays.”
Because he has just one season remaining on his contract Schmidt will get a close look at training camp and could be one of the Caps’ first defensive callups from Hershey next season.