When the Capitals lost Brooks Orpik for 40 games due to injury, there was concern that the Capitals were going to be shorthanded defensively while Orpik healed from his lower body injury, and perhaps the team needed to go outside of the organization to fill the void left by Orpik.
Who was going to fill that? Surely the Capitals weren’t going to go to someone who has spent 4 short seasons with the Washington Capitals, were they? But his tenacity and hardworking ethic earned him a spot on the Capitals blue line, not only that, but shouldered a lot of Orpik’s defensive responsibilities.
This mystery defenseman, is none other than Nate Schmidt. In 52 games this season, he has 2 goals, 11 assists and is a +13. These numbers aren’t exactly eye-popping for a defenseman, but they are indicative of what a stay at home defenseman should be like.
Injuries to Orpik and Carlson aside, Schmidt did what any player wishing to get better did. He went to his coach and asked what he could do. “I talked with Coach Trotz about what it takes to be an everyday player, and having the confidence to go and make the plays I know I could make.”
As a result of this discussion, Schmidt found himself working with assistant coach Todd Reirden (who many may know was an assistant coach with Brooks Orpik’s former team in Pittsburgh) to better his game and it has stuck ever since.
It’s not just the Capitals that have noticed a major change in Schmidt’s game, but other teams have as well. For example, when the Capitals took on the Tampa Bay Lightening in mid-December, Schmidt channeled his inner Orpik by battling hard by battling hard in front of the net in the defensive zone, and even displayed some feistiness by taking on the Lightening’s J.T. Brown in Schmidt’s first ever NHL fight. Said Schmidt on his fight, “Things were happening. I wish I would’ve been able to get up a little bit more and get my stuff off a little quicker…but…it was good to get the first one out of the way.”
It’s this kind of combination of feistiness and defensive first mentality that will not only help Schmidt develop into a top 4 defenseman, but also help him even be considered possibly for the Norris Trophy if he continues to display these traits even more in his career.
While the Norris Trophy may be further down the road in Schmidt’s career if he continues to display these attributes, Schmidt is focusing on the here and now. “We have something special brewing here. I think the goal is to bring some hardware back to DC.”
That is something all Capitals fans wish to see, and we all know Nate Schmidt will be there. Big cheesy grin and all.
By Andrea Sobolik