Hershey Coach Mark French wondered how Cameron Schilling would adjust to the pro game. Whether out of curiosity or necessity, he didn’t waste any time finding out. Schilling, a college free agent out of Miami (Ohio), jumped straight into the Bears’ defensive rotation in his April 1 debut at Giant Center, logging more ice time than any other blue-liner.
Schilling kept that role through the final games of the regular season and into the Calder Cup playoffs, taking advantage of the chance provided by the organization’s injury struggles at both levels down the stretch. Last month General Manager George McPhee touted Schilling as a potential option for the Capitals this season, and the 23-year-old defenseman arrived at his first development camp this week eager to begin carving out his role in the organization.
“I hope that [time at Hershey] gave me a little bit of an opportunity to come into [training] camp and try to fight for a spot, but nothing’s guaranteed,” Schilling said. “Obviously, you don’t know what’s going to happen from here to camp and what the spots are going to look like. I’m just going to come out here and work as hard as I can and try to do everything I can to make the team.”
Schilling faces long odds to stick with the Capitals right away, especially because the team added veteran Jack Hillen to bolster its defensive corps earlier this month. It’s likely that he’ll start out at Hershey, where he’d provide valuable injury insurance.
Schilling has repeatedly exceeded expectations throughout his career. Coming out of Carmel, Ind., he often had to make the long trip to Chicago or Detroit to find top youth competition.
He said he wasn’t upset at being passed over in the NHL Draft because he never even considered it an option, but he blossomed into a serious prospect at Miami, where he played in a pair of Frozen Fours, including the one at Verizon Center in 2009.
After finishing his collegiate career with 58 points in 144 games, Schilling had plenty of suitors before signing a two-year entry level contract with Washington.
“When it came down to it,” Schilling said, “I tried to go where I felt was the best fit for me, the most opportunity, the best place that I feel can give me success.”
Of the four college free agents participating in camp this week who logged time for the Bears late last season, Schilling has the most developed skill set. At 6-foot-2, 196 pounds, he has the physical tools to compete at the next level, and he even showed off his scoring touch with two goals in four playoff games at Hershey.
French compared him to Karl Alzner. Ross Mahoney, the team’s director of amateur scouting, said training camp in September will provide “a good yardstick” for how he can help the organization.
“I think he could benefit from being at Hershey again,” French said, “but I think if he’s up here [with the Capitals] some of his assets and his hockey IQ will allow him to be able to develop at this level as well.”
Schilling said he won’t worry about how he fits into those short-term plans. Shortly after the Hershey season ended, he graduated with a degree in accounting with a minor in entrepeunership. Now he’s enjoying the beginning of a pro career that never seemed guaranteed.
“You can look at [the roster] as much as you want, but ultimately, you’ve got to go out there and play,” Schilling said. “Obviously, you want to look and make sure you have an opportunity in the system, but you can’t really get caught up in the numbers because it’s going to get you away from your game.”
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