Nate Schmidt has never taken part in a professional training camp, having just signed with the Capitals last spring as a free agent out of the University of Minnesota. But he has an idea of what to expect, thanks to summer workouts at his alma mater, where he skated alongside some NHLers and even quizzed former Capital Matt Hendricks about how a younger player should approach camp.
“You kind of get a feeling of what it’s like to play with those high-end players,” Schmidt said. “But when you get out there with world-class guys like Backstrom, Green, Ovechkin [you] just try to go out there and not screw up as much as possible. You’ve just got to stick to your game. If you get too star struck, you’ve kind of got to leave being a fan at the door and be a player once you step on the ice.”
Schmidt, 22, wants to leave a lasting impression in training camp and any preseason games he might suit up for, but knows he’s likely Hershey bound for the start of the year. Given the Capitals’ track record of successfully grooming defensemen in the AHL like John Carlson and Karl Alzner, though, he knows it’s not a bad place to start.
“You’ve just got to bide your time, continue to play well and progress. Those guys made big strides when they were there and eventually got called up and they stuck,” said Schmidt, who is listed at 6 feet, 194 pounds. “That’s where I’d like my journey to start.”
He should have a key role with the Bears this year, and if he’s able to demonstrate an ability to excel in the AHL, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see Schmidt called up to Washington.
The defenseman’s initial introduction to the pro game went well last spring. Schmidt made a smooth transition, which isn’t always the case for players coming straight out of college, and recorded 1 goal and 5 assists in 13 games with the Bears.
“That’s not easy for young guys that haven’t played [pro],” General Manager George McPhee said. “He came in and played really well. We have high hopes for him. He’s very smart, very quick and the game really is about quickness these days he’s not unlike some of the guys on the Chicago blueline, average sized guys that can really scoot. So we’ll see.”
Schmidt acknowledged he was fueled by adrenaline during his 13-game debut but the experience taught him that having the mental focus for preparation and consistency at the professional level is entirely different from the NCAA. While college teams play two games in two days each week with routine in their schedules, the AHL and NHL have more games at a less predictable and relentless rate.
“In college we called it a little bit of a country club compared to that,” Schmidt said. “I only got to dip my toes in a little bit… but you can kind of feel what it’s going to be like. Game 60 where are you going to be at? It’s going to be different than in November. You’ve just got to find that inner drive to keep going.”