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20 offseason Caps questions: Is Nate Schmidt ready for a top-4 role?

20 offseason Caps questions: Is Nate Schmidt ready for a top-4 role?

Another playoff disappointment—as well as a host of expiring player contracts—has left the Capitals with a ton of questions to answer this offseason. Over the next month, Jill Sorenson, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir will take a close look at the 20 biggest issues facing the team as the business of hockey kicks into high gear.     

Always the happiest player on the ice, Nate Schmidt looks poised for a bigger role next season. Schmidt was pushed out of an everyday role by the acquisition of Kevin Shattenkrik, but an injury to Karl Alzner put him back into the lineup and he made the most of it. Even when Alzner was ready to return, Barry Trotz elected to dress seven defensemen rather than take Schmidt out. Now with an aging Brooks Orpik and the likely departure of Karl Alzner, general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters Schmidt will have a top-4 role next season. But is he ready for that or being thrust into that position too soon?

Today’s question: Is Nate Schmidt ready for a top-4 role next season?

Sorenson: The fan favorite and Minnesota Sunshine Nate Schmidt is poised to enter next season as one of the Caps’ top four defensemen. Schmidt’s speed and skating ability are certainly two of his biggest assets and he has worked closely with Todd Reirden to improve his offensive game. Reirden helped Schmidt pick the most effective route for his rushes into the offensive zone and Schmidt responded immediately, using that method every opportunity he has to jump in on the offense. The blueliner is exceptionally coachable and his intelligence helps him read plays, teammates, and opponents' moves quickly. Schmidt found himself on the outside looking in when the team acquired Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline, but his professionalism and positive attitude served him well while sitting in the press box. When presented with an opportunity in the playoffs, Schmidt more than delivered. He was one of the Capitals’ best defensemen night in and night out. I look forward to seeing the soon to be 26-year-old as a top defenseman not only for the Capitals but in the league as well. Stay tuned for another season of Schminutes as well!

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Regan: Schmidt’s impact on the team last season has been a hotly debated topic. The analytics said he was one of the top defensemen in the entire NHL, but the eye test said he was not even one of the top defensemen on the team. Whatever metric you have that says Schmidt is one of the top defensemen in the league, let’s pump the brakes. You’re putting him on a pedestal that includes players like Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns. Not only is that ridiculous, that’s putting undue pressure on a young, developing defenseman and setting the bar absurdly high. That’s not to say Schmidt isn’t ready for the next step, however. He absolutely is. Schmidt’s skillset is well suited for today’s NHL and he showed that with his strong play in the playoffs. But I do have some concerns. First, Schmidt played the most protected minutes of any defenseman on the team in 2016-17 with a defensive-zone start rate even lower than that of Alex Ovechkin (26.1-percent compared to 26.6-percent). Schmidt must play better in his own zone and Trotz must learn to trust him. You cannot have a player in the top-4 if you feel you need to protect him to that extent. Second, will Schmidt be playing a top-4 role for Washington or Vegas? If the Caps don’t protect him in the expansion draft – and they may not with Carlson, Orlov and Niskanen in tow – you would have to think he would be an attractive target for the Golden Knights.

El-Bashir: After seeing the way Schmidt played as an injury replacement at the end of the regular season and then again in the playoffs, it sure looks to me like he’s ready for a role in the top-4 next season along with Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson. That’s good for Schmidt, who has diligently polished his game over the past few years, and great for the Caps, who need a few young, affordable players to step into bigger roles because of a tight salary cap situation. Schmidt is a restricted free agent and figures to count somewhere between $2-3 million against the cap in 2017-18. A fast, puck-moving blue liner with underrated offensive instincts, Schmidt was good in a third pairing role during the regular season. Late in the year and into the playoffs, though, more was asked of him due to injuries. First, Schmidt stepped in for Carlson over the final four games of the regular season and played solidly in his own end and chipped in with a goal and an assist as the Caps went 3-1-0. In fact, he was on the ice for six of the Caps’ goals during that stretch and none against. It was eye-opening. When his number was called in the postseason due to Karl Alzner’s injury, he picked up right where he had left off, playing so well that he forced the coaching staff to deploy seven defensemen when Alzner returned. Schmidt was used in critical junctures, too, underscoring the staff’s growing trust in him. The bottom line: Schmidt, who turns 26 in July, proved in April and May that he’s ready to make the leap that Orlov so successfully completed a year ago. 

MORE CAPITALS: Caps' ECHL affiliate falls in Kelly Cup Final

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NHL Playoff 2019 Roundup: Blues shutout Sharks 5-0 to win Game 5

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NHL Playoff 2019 Roundup: Blues shutout Sharks 5-0 to win Game 5

The St. Louis Blues won a decisive Game 5 against the San Jose Sharks 5-0, pushing the Sharks to the brink of elimination.

The Blues are now one win away from their first Stanley Cup Final since the 1969-70 season, where they lost to the Boston Bruins in a sweep.

St. Louis started the scoring early when Oskar Sundqvist netted his second goal of the series in the first five minutes of the game. 

Jaden Schwartz then tallied his first goal of the game off a juicy rebound in front of Martin Jones to start the scoring in the second period. It was Schwartz's 10th goal of the playoffs, which tied him for third all-time in Blues history for goals in the postseason.

Vladimir Tarasenko added to the Blues lead off a penalty shot. He's the first player in Blues franchise history to score a penalty shot goal in the playoffs.

Schwartz then added two more goals in the third period for a hat-trick. The first came on a 5-on-3 power play advantage off a scramble in front of the net, and the second came from a backdoor one-timer pass from Tarasenko.

Schwartz now has 12 goals these playoffs, and it's his second hat-trick of the playoffs.

Blues goalie Jordan Binnington recorded 21 saves for a shutout, and he's the first rookie goalie to accomplish that feat for the Blues.


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NHL Playoff 2019 Roundup: Blues pull even with Sharks with 2-1 win

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NHL Playoff 2019 Roundup: Blues pull even with Sharks with 2-1 win

The St. Louis Blues' two-goal first period powered them to a win over the San Jose Sharks, and the series is now tied.

The Blues started with a goal 35 seconds into the game. Ivan Barbashev picked off a Brent Burns exit pass and flung it towards the net for the games opening goal. 

Barbashev is the second Blues player to score in the first minute of a game these playoffs. Jaden Schwartz is the other player.

Tyler Bozak scored the game-winning goal for the Blues on a power play off a scramble in front of the net.

The Sharks responded when Thomas Hertl poked the puck past the goal line after Jordan Binnington thought he had the puck covered. Hertl now has 10 goals this postseason for the Sharks, and the team now features 10 or more players to score 10+ goals in the playoffs for the second time in franchise history.

Binnington's 29 save performance gave him his 10th win of the playoffs, the most of any Blues goaltender in franchise history.