After having arguably, his best all-around season as a pro, Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt enters this offseason as a restricted free agent having proved himself worthy of a new contract. And according to General Manager Brian MacLellan, Schmidt is set for a Top 4 role next season. But while he has just officially been endorsed as a Top 4 blueliner, Schmidt has been ready for the role for the last two seasons.
At nearly 26-years old (on July 16), Schmidt is just entering the prime of his career, and after putting up a career-high 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) in 60 games played, Schmidt could see those totals rise substantially in 2017-18. In 2015-16, Schmidt saw increased playing time in the Top 4 playing with John Carlson, after veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik was sidelined for 41 games due to injury. Despite his relative inexperience, Schmidt played surprisingly well, finishing the season having averaged a career-high 18:04 minutes a night, and 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) in a total of 72 games played.
This past season saw Schmidt truly show his full potential, as an injury to Carlson allowed Schmidt to see time in the Top 4 for the second straight season. And the former undrafted blueliner did not disappoint, showing off his impressive speed and improved offensive skills to record the aforementioned 17 points in 60 games played. He also excelled defensively, finishing the season with a 53.6 Corsi rating, and 37 blocked shots. Capitals goalies also recorded an impressive save percentage of .939, and the team started play in the offensive zone 59.4% of the time Schmidt was on the ice.
While Schmidt still has room to improve, as all young defensemen do, he has long been worthy of a bigger, better role than the third-pairing one in which he has served pretty much since the day he arrived in Washington. Along with fellow young blueliner Dmitry Orlov (also a restricted free agent), Schmidt is set to be core pieces of the defense’s future, and it has been a long time coming.
By Michael Fleetwood