Nate Schmidt led all Golden Knights skaters in ice time during the playoffs and was third in plus/minus. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Nate Schmidt said Sunday that he was “extremely disappointed” at receiving a 20-game suspension from the NHL for violating its policies on performance-enhancing drugs. His team, the Vegas Golden Knights, offered support for the defenseman, a key cog in the first-year franchise’s stunning march to the Stanley Cup finals.

The NHL did not specify the substance for which Schmidt tested positive, but his contention was that it was discovered in a quantity so minute — seven billionths of a milligram per milliliter, he claimed — that it could not have given him a noticeable advantage, and that the small amount was consistent with unwitting consumption of “environmental contamination.”

In a statement he said was “surreal” to have to issue, the 27-year-old Schmidt said it was “utterly shocking to be informed that I tested positive for a microscopic amount of a tainted substance.” He claimed to have only used team-provided supplements, and to have been tested “numerous times” throughout his five-year NHL career without previously yielding a positive result.

“Not only did I not intentionally take a banned substance, I could not have received any performance enhancement benefit from the trace amount that inadvertently got into my system at a level that was far too small to have any effect,” Schmidt said. “This low amount was consistent with environmental contamination that I could not possibly have prevented.”

“While we respect the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program and are committed to its success, we strongly disagree with the suspension,” the Golden Knights said in a statement. “We firmly believe that the presence of a trace of the banned substance was accidental and unintentional. Based on our conversations with Nate, analysis from independent medical experts and sworn testimony from the parties involved, we believe it is clear Nate was not able to reasonably ascertain how the substance entered his body.

“Nate is an honest person with high moral character and great integrity. We will stand by him and support him during this time.”

Schmidt can participate in training camp but not in preseason games, and he is set to make his season debut on Nov. 18 against the Oilers. He set career highs in games, goals, assists, shots, blocks, takeaways and ice time last year, and he performed well during his team’s postseason run.

After spending his first four NHL seasons with the Capitals, Schmidt was selected by the Golden Knights during their June 2017 expansion draft. As fate would have it, their season, arguably the most successful for a first-year team in any of the major sports leagues, ended at the hands of Washington, which won the first Cup in its 44-year history.

PED suspensions are relatively uncommon in the NHL, with the most recent previous ban levied against the Coyotes’ Jarred Tinordi in 2016. Schmidt is just the fifth player to receive such a suspension since 2013, when the league’s current collective bargaining agreement went into effect.

Schmidt said that one expert who testified on his behalf during a hearing to appeal his suspension claimed that the amount of the banned substance found in his system was the “equivalent of a pinch of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.” Another expert, according to the defenseman, analyzed a sample of his hair and “concluded there was no evidence of intentional use.”

“I have worked my whole life to become an NHL player, and I’m extremely proud to be a player in the NHL,” Schmidt said. “I have never cut corners in order to achieve this goal.

“I am grateful for the support of the entire Golden Knights organization and I can’t put into words how disappointed I am that I will not be on the ice at the beginning of the season to help my teammates work towards another Stanley Cup run.”

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