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Nate Schmidt ready to make 'next jump' into the Caps' top-4

Nate Schmidt ready to make 'next jump' into the Caps' top-4

The playoffs were a major disappointment for the Capitals as a team.

The playoffs, however, were very good for Nate Schmidt as an individual.

The 25-year-old’s postseason journey began the same way the regular season had ended—with him slotted as Washington’s spare defenseman. But that all changed in Game 3 of the opening round when Karl Alzner was unable to suit up due to injury.

Schmidt played so well that he never came back out.

“I thought the playoffs were really good for me personally,” he said recently. “I thought I could have brought a little bit more, especially in the last game. [But] I think that hopefully the management or the staff believes that I can make the next jump and move up to that ever elusive top-4.”

He certainly made a strong argument in the playoffs.

RELATED: Is Alex Ovechkin a good leader?

Schmidt registered assists in each of his first two games vs. Toronto and finished the postseason with a goal and three assists in 11 games. He also led the team with a +6 rating.

That strong playoff performance followed a tough second half of the regular season for Schmidt. He was bumped out of the lineup altogether when Kevin Shattenkirk was acquired at the trade deadline. Schmidt showed well in the final four games of the regular season as a fill-in for John Carlson, who was injured at the time. But as the playoffs began, Schmidt was once again the odd man out.

As hard as that was for Schmidt, he accepted his role, worked hard to stay prepared and waited patiently for another shot.

As it turned out, he didn't have to wait very long. Alzner suffered a broken right hand in the playoff opener and by Game 3 was unable to suit up.

Schmidt got the call and never looked back.

“You have to make an impact,” he said. “When I played with John in the Toronto series, I thought we made an impact. When I played with [Shattenkirk] at the end of the [Pittsburgh] series, I thought we made an impact when we were on the ice. And that’s all I really wanted to do—just go make an impact.”

In the wake of the Caps’ elimination, Schmidt has struggled with a couple of conflicting emotions. He’s pleased that he played well. He’s devastated that the team came up way short of expectations.    

“You never want to hit the rewind button [because] everything happens for a reason,” he said. “But that’s probably the first time where I got off the ice and I didn’t really believe it had happened and that it was all a bad dream, especially those couple of minutes at the end [of Game 7] when we didn’t have a whole lot of opportunities to score. You just realized that was the way the game was going to go.”

He added: “It’s definitely on us. That’s the reason it hurts so much more [than 2016]. You see how banged up [the Penguins] were. We had a chance to beat them…”

As another offseason begins a month earlier than anyone in Washington expected, there’s a lot of uncertainty swirling. Schmidt is a restricted free agent and due a healthy raise, as are many of his teammates. He also figures to be a tantalizing option for the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft.

Assuming he returns to Washington, though, Schmidt is confident that he solified his worth and proved he's ready for more responsibility in 2017-18.   

“That’s where you want to be,” he said of sliding into the top-4, a move Dmitry Orlov made a year ago. “That’s the next step for me. That’s what I want to do, and I think I put myself in position to be that type of defenseman for our team.”

MORE CAPITALS: Free agency presents Alzner with first taste of unknown

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What Caps prospect Jonas Siegenthaler is doing to show he's ready for roster spot

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What Caps prospect Jonas Siegenthaler is doing to show he's ready for roster spot

Jonas Siegenthaler joined the Capitals' informal practices on Monday morning in an effort to get a head start on what figures to be a critical couple of months for the 20-year-old.

When training camp opens in mid-September, he'll be one of a handful of bubble players and prospects battling for two openings on Washington's blue line, if you count the spare. Even for those who don’t make the cut out of camp, it’s a chance to establish their spot in the pecking order for early-season call-ups.

Siegenthaler says he’s ready and looking forward to the competition.

“You work hard even more in the summer if you know [there are jobs available],” he said at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “And, obviously, every young guy knows that. I think every guy will get in great shape and do everything for the spot. And at the end, the better one will get a spot.”

“It’s going to be a hard battle,” the 2015 second-rounder added, “and I’m excited to accept that challenge.”

RELATED: Previewing the 2017-18 Metro Division

Siegenthaler is the first of the young defensemen to join the Caps’ informal offseason skates, having arrived from Zurich a few days ago. He wanted to get here early for a couple of reasons: to work out at the team’s top-notch facility and to show everyone how serious he is about earning a spot next month. A year ago, Siegenthaler did not get the chance to play in a preseason game.

“It’s a great opportunity to train here with Nemo,” Siegenthaler said, referring to Washington’s strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish. “I can get used to it and be more ready for camp. I’m trying everything to set my goals high — that’s why I’m here.”

He continued: “I want to show them that I want to play here. I think’s a pretty good sign. I think I’m ready.”

Coach Barry Trotz and his assistants, of course, will ultimately determine whether he’s ready — or at least how close he is to being ready based on camp and the preseason.

Siegenthaler, a left shot who is listed by the Caps at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, said he worked diligently with his personal off-ice coach in Switzerland this summer to improve his explosiveness. He also said he focused on building more upper body strength — another area the staff asked him to address following a solid showing at development camp in June.

“My skating, especially my quickness — it was my weakness over years and years,” Siegenthaler said. “I’m still working on it. You never can get to 100 percent, but you want the highest percentage [possible]. I will be working on quickness my whole career. I think that’s normal. I see improvements right now, and I hope I can improve more [before] camp and over the season.”

Another area where Trotz and company will want to see improvement from Siegenthaler will be his comfort level on smaller North American rink. It takes time, and he’s appeared in just 18 regular season and playoff games for the Bears over the past two seasons.

“It’s another game from Europe,” he said. “In Switzerland, the rink was bigger and you have more time. I need to get in my mind that you can’t always look for a beautiful [outlet] pass, or good pass. Sometimes it’s got to be a chip out with the boards.”

If he’s got to work his way up the ladder, he indicated that he’s ready to do whatever it takes. That said, his focus over the few weeks is going to be a singular one: earning a spot on the Caps’ roster.

“Everything is going to happen quicker, so I got to be ready,” he said. “But I think I am. We’ll see at camp.”

MORE CAPITALS: Devante Smith-Pelly on the list of top 25 most important players

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Capitals' 2017-18 Division Preview: Breaking down the rest of the Metro

Capitals' 2017-18 Division Preview: Breaking down the rest of the Metro

Last season, the Metropolitan Division was the toughest in the NHL, producing the Stanley Cup champ, the regular season champ and three of the top four teams in the overall standings.

How’s the division shaping up for 2017-18 after a summer of change for a few of its eight teams?

This week, CSN is taking a look at each club's offseason moves and predicting how they’ll do this winter.

Team: Carolina Hurricanes

2016-17 Results: 36-31-15 (87 points). Seventh in division, 12th in conference. Did not reach the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Justin Williams, F Josh Jooris, G Scott Darling, D Trevor van Riemsdyk, F Marcus Kruger

Notable departures: F Jay McClement, G Eddie Lack

2017-18 Hurricanes analysis and prediction: Carolina is arguably the most improved team this offseason and also return a stong, young core. The most important move was the trade for goalie Scott Darling. The Hurricanes were ranked 26th in team save percentage last season. If Darling can provide consistency in net, that will be a huge boost. Carolina finished last season eight points out of the playoffs. Even with some questions on offense, they can easily make up that gap with the improvements they made. 

Team: New Jersey Devils

2016-17 Results: 28-40-17 (70 points). Eighth in division, 16th in conference. Did not reach the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Nico Hischier, F Brian Boyle, F Marcus Johansson

Notable departures: F Michael Cammalleri, D Mirco Mueller, D Jon Merrill

2017-18 Devils analysis and prediction: After years of looking like they had no direction, there may finally be light at the end of the tunnel for New Jersey. The Devils improved tremendously on offense with Nico Hischier, the top overall draft pick, and Marcus Johansson. Did they do enough to end their five-year playoff drought? Probably not, but they did take a big step in the right direction.

Team: New York Islanders

2016-17 Results: 41-29-12 (94 points). Fifth in division, 9th in conference. Did not reach the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Jordan Eberle

Notable departures: G Jean-Francois Berube, D Travis Hamonic, F Ryan Strome

2017-18 Islanders analysis and prediction: After firing Jack Capuano midseason, the Islanders went 24-12 under Doug Weight. They then proceeded to do little to help him in the offseason. Jordan Eberle is a solid addition and their three-goalie headache is now solved thanks to J.F. Berube going to Vegas. But this is a team that did not make the playoffs last year and did very little to improve, banking instead on their prospects being able to contribute enough to get them over the edge. To go with the concerns on the ice, there is also a major concern off of it as they will have to deal with the headache of John Tavares nearing free agency without an extension. The noise surrounding Tavares' status will only get louder as the season goes on. Can they compete for a playoff spot? Sure, but they will ultimately be watching the postseason from home.

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