Hello Japers' Rink readers. My name is Nathan Wells and I'm a college hockey writer for Western College Hockey here on the SB Nation network and College Hockey News. Although I cover the WCHA in general, the team I see the most is the University of Minnesota and figured I'd give insight on newly signed free agent Nate Schmidt.
Nate has had an interesting run to the pro level. Despite having one of the more memorable goals in the Minnesota State HS Tourney (Schmidt went end to end and scored as he was tripped), he spent time in the USHL before getting to Minnesota. Once there he struggled his freshman year to get playing time and even spent a couple games as a forward.
Since then, he's grown a lot over the past two years.
As a sophomore, Schmidt broke out for 41 points and found his groove as a puck moving defenseman. This year he solidified his positioning defensively while scoring 32 points (9G-23A) and being a part of Minnesota's second straight WCHA regular season title. He also became more vocal and energetic (Nate is a very interesting person to talk to postgame).
For all the offense, it's how he plays that makes him one of the premier defensemen in college hockey. Schmidt rarely pinches despite having the green light; preferring to set up his forwards. This especially is the case on the power play, which Nate has quarterbacked the top unit the past two seasons.
Still, Schmidt is more than capable of using his slap shot. He doesn't rely on it like other blue liners but has taken more shots this year than last. When he unleashes it is a bomb.
Nate's weakest part of his game is on the defensive end when he tries to physical or use his size. He is a smaller defenseman at 6'0", 195 lbs and plays even smaller. He's grown a lot on the defensive side the last two years, spending much of this year paired with freshman Brady Skjei (the New York Rangers' 2012 first round pick), and compensated well when Skjei struggled.
At the same time, Minnesota's aggressiveness and speed allow the Gophers blue line to get away with more than most. The Gophers don't face as many shots and they were out-shot 3 times all season. When they do and he tries to get physical it can be ugly.
Overall, I think Schmidt is a solid pickup by the Capitals. He's not a game-changer - after all, we're talking about an undrafted college free agent - by any means but is a solid offensive defenseman. Nate can be that on the power play yet even playing 5x5 he is rarely caught of position with great vision. How far he goes depends on if he can further develop (can see him stuck in the AHL) but regardless, there is upside with Schmidt.
Hopefully that answers any questions you have about Nate Schmidt. If it doesn't feel free to ask in the comments or tweet me @gopherstate. I'm usually good at getting back