Updated 2:01 p.m. Defenseman John Erskine missed practice Friday with what the team will only describe as an upper-body injury, prompting the Capitals to make a handful of roster moves to balance out their blueline.
Washington recalled defenseman Nate Schmidt from the AHL’s Hershey Bears to bring another left-handed shot into the mix in Erskine’s absence. Schmidt, 22, who was signed in April as a college free agent from the University of Minnesota, is expected to make his NHL debut Saturday when the Capitals host the undefeated Colorado Avalanche at Verizon Center. He carries a salary cap hit of $925,000.
Assuming he does play against the Avalanche, Schmidt will be the fourth defenseman to make his NHL debut with the Capitals in the last 33 regular season games dating back to last season.
“He’s a good, heady player, skates well, moves the puck well,” Coach Adam Oates said. “We need to get cleaner coming out of our own end. We don’t want to throw him into the lion’s den tomorrow against a hot team, but he skates good and they’re a very good skating team.”
The Capitals had a few options among the left-handed blueliners in Hershey with Dmitry Orlov, who played 60 NHL games in the 2011-12 season, having the most experience of the group. Oates said he initially asked General Manager George McPhee to recall Orlov, but the defenseman is currently sidelined with pink eye so they opted for Schmidt instead.
Oates said he doesn’t know how much time Erskine, who had surgery on his left knee this summer, will miss. The veteran defenseman didn’t take a shift in the final 7:05 of regulation against the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday night after suffering the upper-body injury when he got tangled up with Jordan Staal on the play that led to Nathan Gerbe’s game winner.
“It happened during the goal,” Oates said. “He got contorted there, spun out and pulled something.”
Along with the decision to bring up Schmidt, the Capitals assigned rookie defenseman Connor Carrick, who is waiver exempt, to Hershey. The right-hander appeared in Washington’s first three games of the season but can benefit from more consistent and significant playing time in the AHL. Given Oates’s preference that skaters play on their strong side, one of the right-handed shots was bound to be the odd man out in this scenario.
“The kid’s played great. He’s been sitting there a few days, want to get him some games,” Oates said regarding Carrick. “He’s done a real good job, I expect to see him again but I need to get him games.”
Oates added that Carrick has “outgrown” juniors, so expect the Illinois native to spend the season between the AHL and NHL. For more on Carrick’s development, check out this story from earlier in the week.
Washington also reassigned Michael Latta, who is waiver exempt as well, to Hershey. Latta had a strong second NHL game against Carolina but Oates said they expected Jay Beagle to play against the Avalanche and wanted to ensure the feisty center was able to get more playing time. Oates said salary cap space, given all the transactions, also played a role in the decision to send Latta to Hershey.