Undrafted Nate Schmidt could make a cameo with Caps this season

July 12, 2013
(Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
Nate Schmidt (blue jersey) reacts to a play during development camp. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Being overlooked in the 2009 NHL draft was tough for Nate Schmidt to accept at first. He had watched and waited, hoping to hear his name called but never did. He tried again the following year and still nothing.

As disappointing as it was at the time, Schmidt looks back on being passed over by every NHL team as what helped propel him to improve.

“It ended up being a blessing in disguise. It kind of gave me a kick in the rear end to get your hockey career and keep going,” Schmidt said this week at Capitals development camp. “It all turned out for the best, I guess, but sometimes it was a little rocky along the way. But I wouldn’t regret one thing I’ve done along the way so far.”

Schmidt, who will turn 22 on July 16, rounded into an offensive defenseman at Minnesota, recording 12 goals and 62 assists in 96 games over three seasons. The Capitals signed the 5-11, 199 pound defenseman last spring as a free agent, appeared in 13 games (1G, 5A) with the Hershey Bears before their season ended.

Even in that brief introduction to the style of play the Capitals and Bears utilize, Schmidt realized how significant the jump from the NCAA to the pro game can be.

“In Hershey I figured out that I had to learn to read plays a little better and get used to the system. It took me 10 games just to kind of grasp everything in Coach Oates’s system,” said Schmidt, who explained he had been taught to camp out in front of the net in college.

“But we have a system here where we want guys to jump in, shut down and eliminate time and space,” Schmidt said. “First few times I was in no-man’s land, I didn’t even know where I was going. I kinda felt like I was out of place. But after about 10 games or so you get the hang of it, get used to what you’re supposed to do.”

At development camp this week Schmidt is one of the standouts. He’s among the older players in attendance and participated in the week-long camp last year as well. This time around, he’s not vying for a contract but rather to demonstrate that he’s ready for a regular spot in the American Hockey League.

Schmidt should contend for a prominent role with the Bears this year and could potentially make a cameo appearance in Washington if depth among left-handed defensemen is depleted for any reason. While he doesn’t figure to be in the mix for the Capitals’ lineup immediately, Schmidt is determined to doing everything he can to push his career forward.

“Obviously everyone’s dream is to play in the NHL, and for me it’s no different,” Schmidt said. “I want to be able to contend for a spot on the top six defensemen. Whether that’s halfway through the year, beginning of the year, whenever that may be, as long as I get here, that will be my end goal.”

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