Photo credit: USCHO

The Capitals have signed Nate Schmidt, a 6-foot, 194-pound, lefty to a two-year entry-level contract, kicking in this season. The 21-year-old from St. Cloud spent three years with the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers, where late-round Caps draft pick Travis Boyd also played. Over the last two seasons, Schmidt has been nearly a point-per-game player. Schmidt attended Capitals Development Camp last year.

This season, Schmidt ranked third in points among NCAA defensemen and first in the WCHA. He was named to the All-WCHA first team and considered the top free agent on a Gophers team composed mostly of already drafted NHL prospects.

The Gophers were eliminated from the NCAA tournament last weekend after a huge upset by Yale in the West Regional. Schmidt became the first Gophers player to sign an NHL contract after the early exit.

Minnesota’s head coach Don Lucia commented on the signing to the Gophers official site):

Nate is a great example of someone who was overlooked in the draft but worked hard on and off the ice to put himself in great position to become our top defenseman the last two years. He had two tremendous years and felt he was ready to take his game to the next level. He has a great opportunity with Washington and I want to ywish him the best as he turns pro and thank him for his contributions to Gopher hockey.

Oilers Chick, who covers NCAA for Hockey’s Future, provided the scouting report on Schmidt:

Nate is an offensive-minded defenseman with a big shot. Nate’s greatest asset IMO is his skating. He’s very smooth and can quickly get up to speed. He transitions exceedingly well. And those assets have allowed him to skate with college hockey’s faster guys and cover a lot of ice.

While a lot has been said about Nate’s offensive abilities and instincts, which are great BTW, the only thing that seems to be lost in all of the discussion is how well he plays defensively. His gap control and containment is good, not afraid to play the body (although I wouldn’t call him a “tough guy” – read that rack up the PIMs) and his stick is good too. One thing that Nate did exceedingly well at Minnesota this year IMO is how quickly he’s been able to strip pucks off sticks and either get passes up to his teammates or make clears. He’s just so good and so confident with the puck.

The biggest hurdle obviously for Nate will be how well/quickly can he adapt to the pro game. I think he’ll be fine and want to wish him all the best with the Caps.

Schmidt was ranked second in RedLineReport’s NCAA free-agent rankings behind only the Red Wings pick-up Danny DeKeyser. Here’s their scouting report:

Perennial Red Line favourite was twice ranked in our top 100 for the NHL draft. Has a ton of heart and plays every shift as if it were his last. Not the biggest dog in the fight at just 6-0/194 pounds, but hurls his body with reckless abandon and never gives up on a play. Exceptionally physical, punishing open-ice hitter who loves to initiate contact. Mean, nasty disposition and hits to hurt and intimidate. Very strong skater with speed and agility. Gets overaggressive and has tendency to force the play offensively. Has been a terrific PP quarterback throughout his career, making sound decision in puck distribution and taking charge. Love the passion and intensity he brings every shift.

Corey Pronman (Hockey Prospectus) wrote the following on Schmidt:

Schmidt is a dynamic offensive defenseman as you could imagine with those numbers. He’s a high-end puck handler and passer who has wowed observers in the NCAA on many occasions with his skill. He’s a creative player with great offensive instincts who projects to play on an NHL team’s power play, if not their top unit. He skates well and while he doesn’t score a lot, there’s potential in his shot too. The concerns with Schmidt has been his defensive and physical game. The former I thought showed progression this season, as he started to log more tough minutes and be used in critical situations. I doubt he’ll ever be a better than average defensive player, but there’s a possibility he can play at a high enough level to survive given his other tools. Schmidt is also slightly undersized and I question how he’ll be able to handle NHL-level physicality. He projects as a top four defenseman in the NHL and while I lean to seeing him get some AHL time first, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s utilized by Washington in an NHL line up from the get go. If you don’t count Orlov as a prospect anymore, Schmidt instantly becomes the top young defense prospect in the Capitals organization.

After signing Cam Schilling of Miami (OH) Univeristy last year, Schmit becomes the second NCAA free-agent defenseman the Caps have signed in as many years.

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