Through five games, all of the Capitals’ defensemen (save for Taylor Chorney, who has not yet played) have played well. The only significant change this offseason was the promotion of youngster Dmitry Orlov to a Top 4 role. While Orlov has looked good, fellow young blueliner Nate Schmidt has played exceptionally well.
While many expected Orlov to have a better year than he did last season, few probably expected the 25-year old Schmidt to start the season so well, especially considering his third-pairing role. Through five games, Schmidt has one assist, a plus-1 rating, and has become more involved in offensive rushes, which in turn has created more scoring chances for his team.
Through his first five contests, Schmidt has averaged 14:16 minutes of ice time, just below his career average of 16:56. While it is a small sample size, Schmidt will likely see that increase if he continues to play well.
A solid all-around blueliner, Schmidt uses his amazing speed to make great defensive plays, and as mentioned before, help create offensive chances. In his last five games, he has played 14:55, 15:33, 12:38, 11:27, and 16:47; a combined total of 71 minutes of ice time.
Schmidt’s possession numbers over the first five games of the season are also noteworthy. He has a Corsi rating of 49.1, a number that isn’t great but not bad either, and the Caps have started in the offensive zone 57.8% of the time he is on the ice. That’s just .2% less than top-pairing defenseman Karl Alzner.
While it is still early, Schmidt’s play has to be encouraging to the Caps coaches and General Manager Brian MacLellan. With Alzner potentially heading for unrestricted free agency next summer, and the possibility of losing Orlov or another defenseman in the upcoming expansion draft, Schmidt (a pending restricted free agent) has proved that he can play a bigger role if needed, after playing on the top-pairing last season with John Carlson in the absence of veteran Brooks Orpik. If Schmidt can elevate his game and improve on his promising start, he could firmly entrench himself in the future plans of the Caps.
By Michael Fleetwood