If you’ve ever had the chance to speak to defenseman Nate Schmidt of the Washington Capitals or watched him do an interview, you’d surely remember it. The 25-year-old from St. Cloud, Minnesota makes you instantly feel like he’s known you for years with his easy-going, laid-back personality. That personality is probably a reason why Schmidt has been able to create his own unique path to the NHL as an undrafted player.
— steph (@foxgirlx3) January 16, 2017
He starred for the University of Minnesota in his sophomore and junior years on the blue line, and despite being passed over two times in the NHL draft he’s now played in 182 games. It worked out brilliantly for him though, as he eventually latched on with the Capitals organization following that junior season, and now he is part of a D-corps with a team that is often found atop the league’s standings.
Following the Caps’ 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils prior to the All-Star break, The Hockey Writers caught up with the charismatic Schmidt to get some insight into his path to the NHL and his college memories among other topics.
— Dan Rice (@DRdiabloTHW) January 27, 2017
The Hockey Writers: This has to be a nice win for your team heading into the All-Star break after a rare loss in your last game, right?
Nate Schmidt: Yeah, we had a little bit of a run there for a while and then had an emotional game (tonight). It’s always good to win that last one before the break (laughs); it makes the break a lot more tolerable.
THW: So what is Nate Schmidt going to do over this All-Star break?
NS: I’m going to head down to Miami with my family and girlfriend, it should be fun to see some rays. It’s been raining in DC for like a couple of weeks now (laughs).
THW: You’re almost 200 games into your NHL career now. Where are you at as far as your comfort level in this league?
NS: I think I’m at the point where the jitters have gone away, I’m starting to get more acclimated to the guys and I think in my second full season of being here – I think the way you enter the zone, read certain plays – I think that’s a telltale sign; I’m feeling good where I’m at.
THW: You have six career goals, do you remember the first one?
NS: Yeah. I remember it was at home vs. Nashville and I can tell you that John Carlson (celebrating) put me in the third row after scoring (laughs), that was a pretty special moment. It was pretty cool (smiles). It’s funny because Trotzsy (Barry Trotz) was coaching that team at the time, and he was like: ‘I remember your first goal.’ How do you remember that?!! ‘There was a streak there where every time a rookie played his first game they scored against us and you were one of the guys that did it.’ I was like, oh, that’s kind of cool.
THW: What are your memories from your three years at the University of Minnesota?
NS: It was just a heck of a time for me, let me tell ya; we just had a great group of guys and a team, and a coach. Mike Guentzel, our D coach, recruited me and really is the guy or the reason that I’m here right now; he was a guy that really helped me along. I think if you look at his resume, of all of the defensemen he’s had, you can really see that he’s done such a fantastic job. I graduated from the U in three years and a summer, and that was one of the cool things for me. I might be the only guy on this team with a college degree (laughs), which is kind of cool.
I live in Minneapolis in the summer. I train back at school as a professional now, and a lot of our guys from my grade; guys younger and some older guys that also train there. That’s kind of the culture that we have, those are things that I really enjoy the most about going there and we’re just one big family, no matter when you played.
THW: You went undrafted; was that disappointing or did you expect to not be selected?
NS: It was an interesting time, that’s for sure. A lot of people were telling me that I was pretty good at that time, and I was thinking that there was a possibility of being drafted; I got caught up in a little bit of it and I was disappointed at the beginning. Then there was the second year, sometimes guys end up drafted as an over-ager, and I thought: ‘oh man, maybe I’ll get drafted as an over-ager.’ That didn’t happen (smiles). Really it ended up being a blessing in disguise, with the opportunity to come here and kind of pick your team I guess.
It was almost like getting recruited for college again (laughs) so it was pretty cool. I tell guys that it’s not that disappointing because a lot of college guys make something out of their careers. You see a lot of guys getting signed at the end of their seasons, I think the kid that was here (with New Jersey) was from Brown right? Nick Lappin. That’s an undrafted guy that made something out of nothing and not being drafted and still doing good things.
— Chocolate Hockey (@ChocHockey) January 11, 2015
THW: Were there other teams pursuing you besides the Caps?
NS: Yeah, it came down to a couple; I think it was like three or four that had serious interest.
THW: So you started with the Hershey Bears in the AHL, tell us a little about your development there.
NS: When I was growing up in Minnesota, you didn’t really hear about the pro game much. The only thing I thought of was college, there was no pro team when I was growing up. The only team I really rooted for was the Red Wings, but don’t tell anybody that (laughs). Nicklas Lidstrom was my favorite player.
"Oh by the way, 17 down, that’s turtle."- the pride of Minnesota, Nate Schmidt. https://t.co/AfKxlxxiUE
— Emily Wright (@EmilyCello) January 13, 2016
It was a good experience; at first, I really didn’t…I was like: crap, I’m in the minors. You really don’t realize what kind of an impact it (the AHL) has on you, a lot of the guys in this room are first round picks, but all of our D played in the minors at some point. Hershey was a good spot, it’s a win-first mentality so you really get that almost-an-NHL-team mentality. The closest franchise to being an NHL franchise – they get you mentally ready to perform here so that it’s not as big of a jump. It’s still a jump, but they try to make it so it’s not an issue.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.