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2014-15 Rink Wrap: Nate Schmidt

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From Alzner to Wilson, we're taking a look at and grading the 2014-15 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2015-16. Next up, Nate Schmidt.

Clyde Caplan

Japers' Rink Player Card (click for a hi-res version, and a glossary of terms used in this post can be found here; data via NHL.comwar-on-ice.comGeneral Fanager and Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com):

Schmidt card

Schmidt partners

Schmidt usage

Green's Rolling Shot-Attempt (Corsi) -For Percentage (2013-15):

Schmidt Rolling CF

Schmidt's Past Two Seasons (via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com; click to enlarge):

Schmidt HA

Previous Rink Wrap: 2013-14 (7.23 rating)

Key Stat: Schmidt had the best possession numbers among the Caps  defensemen, highlighted by a 53.9% shot-attempt percentage (a.k.a. Corsi percentage).

Interesting Stat: Schmidt's 0.10 point-per-game pace was lower than last year's rookie pace of 0.21.

The Good: Nate Schmidt picked up on a strong rookie season by continuing to be a smooth-skating sixth defenseman, showing that last year's surprise appearance in the lineup for 29 games was no fluke. This year, Schmidt notched 39 games and helped to drive very high possession numbers, tops on the team among defensemen, and earned quite a bit of respect for his performance. While he only potted four points throughout the year, a lot of that perceived scoring underperformance could be chalked up to bad luck. His team-leading 53.9% SA% among Caps defensemen was anchored by a 47.9% goals-for percentage, the worst mark among Caps defensemen that played more than 30 games - his possession dominance simply didn't pay off in terms of actual scoring. So why is this considered good? Because bad luck like this is probably unsustainable. Schmidt suffered from a low 983 PDO (including a 6.6% on-ice shooting percentage), so once the presumed inevitable reversion to the mean occurs, his future output will likely trend higher, and more in line with what you'd expect to see from an defenseman with such strong underlying statistics.

Going into 2015-16, Schmidt slots as the Caps number-six defenseman, likely to play alongside Dmitry Orlov. On paper, the likely loss of Mike Green to free agency looks to be a significant blow to the Caps; however, don't be surprised if this Schmidt-Orlov duo outplays the tandem of Green and late-season arrival Tim Gleason. Neither Schmidt nor Orlov possess the offensive upside of Mike Green, but both have above-average offensive capabilities and can cover more ice than Gleason can. If they can limit mistakes and continue their growth (both will only be 24 next season), this could be one of the more surprising bottom-two defensive pairs in the League next year. (Or at least the Caps hope!)

The Bad: Unfortunately, the key to Schmidt maximizing his potential is, as pointed out above, limiting his mistakes. Schmidt was benched midway through the season for committing too many turnovers, which led to an unfortunate series of events in January. After being benched he was sent down to Hershey for a conditioning assignment, almost scored a hat trick, and then in the same game broke his collarbone. A healthy Schmidt returned to the Caps two months later and played some down the stretch, notching his only goal of the year. But his minutes weren't the same as they were earlier in the year and, ultimately, he couldn't crack the playoff line-up. Many Caps fans pondered how different the team may have looked in the playoffs substituting Schmidt for Gleason, but the injury likely prevented that scenario.

Aside from health, the other concern on Schmidt is his potential upside. Some see him as a career 6/7 d-man; others speculate that his upside is as high as a second-pairing d-man. When Nate looks at the depth chart, he sees four guys entrenched in front of him (both by experience and contractual positioning), and some solid blueline options on the horizon in the farm system. This is his time to prove himself, because patience for 24-year-old defensemen to fully develop starts to wane. In general, he needs to put up more than four points while playing a more error-free game. What's not working in his favor - and preventing some of that upside from being captured - is that he's a left-handed defenseman. Schmidt would appear to be a natural fit on the power play; however, the entire Caps 1-3-1 power-play ystem is predicated on having a right-handed shot on the point (i.e., John Carlson and Matt Niskanen now) in order to feed Alex Ovechkin for his patented one-timers. It doesn't work if you're a lefty. And it's why he won't see any real power-play time in the foreseeable future.

The Video:

The Vote: Rate Schmidt below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.

The Discussion: What is Schmidt's upside? Will he help fans forget about the pending departure of Mike Green?  What would it take for you to give him a "10" next year?

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