Our mission to introduce you to the Vegas Golden Knights is now eight entries deep. We’ve covered plenty of forwards, head coach Gerard Gallant, and a pair of netminders. Today we’ll tackle our first defenseman, and he’s a good one. Nate Schmidt is arguably the most important blueliner on the inaugural Vegas roster.
The selection of Schmidt in this summer’s expansion draft was one of the more talked about picks. When you combine young talent from a good team with a little bit of contract drama, you’re sure to capture some headlines.
Adding to that interest is that this is not the first time Schmidt and Golden Knights general manager George McPhee have worked together. McPhee was the GM in Washington when the Caps inked the then 22-year-old to a deal. A year later McPhee was relieved of his duties.
So he knows this kid a little bit. That’s certainly not a bad thing. Like the Knights adding Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault, guys who played under Gallant with the Florida Panthers, familiarity helps. Vegas isn’t starting from zero. Whether that translates to wins or not, we’ll see.
Some teams were unconcerned with the player they lost in the expansion draft. Washington is not one of those teams. Losing Schmidt hurt. That makes us that much happier to see him in Sin City. Learn a couple things about him.
How Did Schmidt Get Here?
Comparable to many of his new teammates, getting Schmidt in a Golden Knights sweater was a bit of a task.
To this point, his entire career has been spent with Washington. He was undrafted after three impressive years at the University of Minnesota before the Capitals signed him to a free-agent contract in April 2013. The first two years of his professional career he split time between the big club and its AHL affiliate, the Hersey Bears. The last two seasons he’s been with the Caps full-time.
And he’s only getting better. While it’s no secret that Washington has underachieved in the postseason the last few years, Schmidt’s productivity is decidedly on an upward trend. Rumors swirled around the expansion draft that Caps’ general manager Brian MacLellan was doing his best to cut a deal that would allow him to keep his 26-year-old defenseman. While McPhee reached plenty of similar agreements with GMs across the league, clearly he was determined to add Schmidt.
It’s also worth noting that he passed on goaltender Philipp Grubauer so he could draft Schmidt. That’s quite a compliment. Grubauer isn’t the number one in Washington but he would be for more teams in the league than not.
After Schmidt’s name was called at June’s expansion draft, the work wasn’t done. Salary arbitration was necessary to get Vegas’ new acquisition under contract, the first NHL deal reached via these means in two years. The Golden Knights wanted two years at $1.9 million AAV, Schmidt wanted one-year at $2.75 million, the result was two years for $4.45 million.
And finally, we can get to some hockey.
Where Does Schmidt Fit In?
Future of the franchise on the blue-line, and nothing less. That’s where Schmidt fits in. Maybe.
Today, Vegas has more defensemen than it knows what to do with. Shea Theodore was a nice addition in the expansion draft. Erik Brannstrom was a dynamite first-round pick of the Golden Knights. Schmidt is older than those two but is nothing short of a proven commodity in this league.
More than likely he’ll have to slog through a couple of difficult years in Vegas. The numbers say that Vegas is not going to win much early. In 2019, Schmidt will once again be a free agent. It’s entirely possible that his contract negotiation will be the most important of that Golden Knights offseason.
That’s two years away, though. Today, Schmidt is a reliable if not particularly spectacular blueliner. He’s going to eat up the minutes and plenty will be expected of him. He bridges that gap between younger players added more for potential than anything else and older defensemen that were acquired for mostly a veteran presence.
I think Schmidt is a player that Vegas would like to have for the long-term. I doubt very seriously that he is one of those assets that is flipped at the trade deadline if the Knights are out of contention for the postseason. Whether or not he’s re-signed in 2019 will have everything to do with how close Vegas is to being competitors in the Western Conference. If you believe owner Bill Foley, they will be.
With that said, I think it’s safe to make this guy one of your favorite players on the first ever Golden Knights squad. It’s going to quickly become evident why he’s here.
Buy the jersey.
Las Vegas local covering Golden Knights hockey since 2016.
Ball State University ’05
Credentialed NBA writer covering the Phoenix Suns,
Credentialed NCAA football writer covering the UNLV Rebels