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Quite the Schmidtuation: Nate Schmidt's play may force a shakeup in the Caps' defensive pairs

Quite the Schmidtuation: Nate Schmidt's play may force a shakeup in the Caps' defensive pairs

When the Caps traded for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline, that meant someone else would be coming out of the lineup to make room. That player became Nate Schmidt. Now thrust back into duty for Washington, Schmidt is making it very hard for head coach Barry Trotz to scratch him again.

“Nate's come in and played very, very well," Trotz said. "His ability to get up ice, his ability to skate, he's done a really good job. So yeah, we do have a little bit of an interesting scenario here.”

Schmidt came back into the Caps’ lineup after Shattenkirk was suspended two games for a high hit delivered to Kevin Gravel of the Los Angeles Kings. Schmidt has been outstanding in those two games and scored Washington’s first goal of the game against Minnesota, just his second goal of the season.

RELATED: Caps go wild on Minnesota to end losing skid

With Shattenkirk set to return to the lineup now that his two-game suspension is up, it was originally assumed Schmidt would find himself as a healthy scratch again.

According to Trotz, however, that may not be the case.

“He stepped in and is making our decisions tougher,” Trotz said. “I think that's an outstanding thing.”

It says a lot about a player when he can step back into the lineup after getting replaced and play as well as Schmidt has. That will no doubt raise his esteem in the eyes of the coaches.

But who will he play for? The answer is not Shattenkirk.

“I think we're going to have to get Shattenkirk in,” Trotz said. “There's no question. I'm not going to keep him out. We've got to get him playing the way we need him to play and he's had a couple days off here.”

It’s important to get Shattenkirk as much playing time as possible as he continues to adjust to the team. Plus, the Capitals showed just how much having a left-right balance on each defensive pair means to the team with what they were willing to give up to get him. Should Schmidt, a lefty, remain in the lineup for Thursday’s game, that then means it will most likely be in place of another left-shot defensemen: Dmitry Orlov, Brooks Orpik, or Karl Alzner.

It certainly is an interesting Schmidtuation.

MORE CAPITALS: Ovechkin ends 10-game goal drought

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Evgeni Kuznetsov glad to see the Caps rely on youth more

Evgeni Kuznetsov glad to see the Caps rely on youth more

The Caps' offseason roster turnover has been well-documented, but Evgeni Kuznetsov doesn't think that's necessarily a bad thing. 

Speaking to Igor Eronko of Sport-Express, Kuznetsov took a more optimistic approach to what'll be a much different looking team come October:

RELATED: PREVIEWING THE METRO DIVISION 

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The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly

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USA TODAY Sports

The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly

Every player on an NHL team plays a role. Some play bigger roles than others.

In the coming weeks, Jill Sorenson, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles. 

Today’s player: No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly.

Will Devante Smith-Pelly manage to ressurect his career this season?

After getting bought out by the Devils on June 30, Smith-Pelly signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Caps a few days later. The deal will pay him $650,000 in Washington and $300,000 in Hershey.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS NEED TO WATCH OUT FOR THE BLUE JACKETS

It's a significant paycut from the $1.25 million that Smith-Pelly, 25, earned last season, and the contract offers less job security. But he's got another chance, much like the one the Caps gave to Brett Connolly a year ago, to seize a spot in the bottom six and reestablish himself in the league. Connolly, after being cut loose by the Bruins last summer, took full advantage of his opporrunity here, scoring a career-high 15 goals in 66 games and earning a two-year, $3 million extension from GM Brian MacLellan.    

When training camp opens in mid-September, the Caps are going to need a pair of wingers to play with center Jay Beagle on the fourth line. There will be no shortage of competition for those positions, with Smith-Pelly expected to battle Anthony Peluso and forward prospects Nathan Walker, Chandler Stephenson, Riley Barber, Travis Boyd, Liam O’Brien and perhaps others.

Smith-Pelly would seem to have the inside track based on experience alone. He’s played in 266 NHL regular season games and 24 playoff contests. (Peluso, 28, has played in 142 games, while no one else I mentioned has appeared in more than 14.)

Smith-Pelly, a 6-foot, 214-pound righty, has also had some eyebrow raising stretches in his career. In the 2014 playoffs as a member of the Ducks, he amassed five goals in 12 games while averaging 4.4 hits per. In 2016, he was dealt from Montreal to the Devils late in the season and ended up racking up eight goals and five assists in only 18 games.

So, Smith-Pelly has been productive. He just hasn’t been consistent.

Will that change in Washington? That’s yet to be determined. But we can already surmise this much: he's got a pretty good opportunity in front of him and he's probably running out of chances.

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber
— No. 22 Pheonix Copley