Less than six months after he signed a contract with the Capitals as a free agent out of the University of Minnesota, undrafted Nate Schmidt will make his NHL debut against the Colorado Avalanche.
Schmidt, 22, will become the second Capitals defenseman and third player to make his NHL debut in the first five games this season. He’ll also be the third blueliner in that same span to play in his first career contest with Washington as the team continues shuffling the lineup in response to injuries.
After appearing in 14 regular season and playoff contests with the AHL’s Hershey Bears dating back to last season and taking part in training camp, Schmidt feels comfortable with the Capitals systems and hopes that he’ll be able to keep his emotions contained enough so that it doesn’t negatively impact his play.
“You almost gotta not try and be too in awe about going on, just take it as another game. If you let the game get too big for you you’re going to go in the game and become a very minuscule part of it,” Schmidt said. “Just [in the] morning skate, try and get the jitters out. I think I got them all out this morning, at least I hope so, and just build some chemistry with Steve Oleksy, just trying to figure out some tendencies.”
Schmidt will be paired with Oleksy, who will be working with his third different partner in his third game of the season Saturday after skating with Connor Carrick and Alex Urbom in the previous two contests.
Oleksy doesn’t mind the changes, which have been mandated by injuries to Jack Hillen (fractured tibial plateau) and John Erskine (upper body), and knows he can help ease the transition process for Schmidt through communication and encouragement.
“Keep everything going north and keep it as simple as possible, especially myself that’s my game, a good first pass and keep it simple,” Oleksy said. “Guys that are just kind of getting used to it the game speed and things like that it’s important. When you try to do too much that’s when you usually get burned.”
Schmidt said his preseason appearances, which included a game against most of the Bruins regulars in Boston, offered a preview of what he could expect from a true NHL environment and that he’s looking forward to the real thing in Verizon Center. He also knows what type of challenge awaits from the Avalanche.
“I got the chance to sit down with Calle, watch some video so I can at least know some ins and outs especially against Colorado,” Schmidt said. “They’re a fast team and for a d man like myself I’ve got to move the puck out very quickly tonight.”
However the contest goes, Schmidt will have plenty of support in the stands. His parents, Tom and JoAnn, and brother, Mike, are all flying in from Minnesota for the contest. Schmidt’s sister, Emily, is in medical school in Arizona and was supposed to be in surgery Saturday night but a doctor gave her the night off so she could attend his debut as well.
>> Alex Urbom will be paired with John Carlson for the start of tonight’s game largely because, well, he’s already played one game with the Caps this season Coach Adam Oates said.
>> John Erskine missed a second consecutive day of practice with an upper-body injury.
>>Here’s the Capitals projected lineup. You can find Colorado’s expected roster here.
Michal Neuvirth is expected to start.