The Toronto Maple Leafs have been connected to just about every available defenceman under the sun that shoots with a right handed stick. There haven’t been too many lefties tied to them though; for the Leafs to add someone in a position of strength, they’d need to be really good, really cheap, or a combination of both.
Enter Nate Schmidt, selected yesterday by the Vegas Golden Knights from the Washington Capitals. The Leafs are keen to acquire the young defender, according to TVA’s Louis Jean.
— Louis Jean (@LouisJean_TVA) June 22, 2017
Something appears to be lost in translation in one way or another with Jean’s tweets. The French version says that the price would be a second round pick, whereas the English version asks if that would be enough. Either way, both imply legitimate interest, and that’s a very good thing to hear. While Schmidt plays in relatively sheltered minutes, he’s been excellent in them, putting up a 2.6% Relative Corsi with above average numbers in both the for and against components. That’s an improvement on the season before, where he was below average defensively and -0.6% relative overall.
Schmidt’s most frequent partner this year was Brooks Orpik. The two meshed together surprisingly well, putting up 56.3% together while each hovering at about 49% apart. In the previous year, his most frequent partner was John Carlson, though he found his most success with Dmitry Orlov. Swapping in Schmidt for stay-at-home defender Karl Alzner after Game 2 against the Maple Leafs was instrumental in Washington’s turnaround in this year’s playoff series, in which the Capitals won 4-2 while Schmidt had two assists in four games.
From a point production perspective, the 25-year-old hasn’t brought a ton to the table yet, with a career high of 17 points in 60 games set this year, despite getting just 15:29 of ice time per game.
If the cost truly is a second round pick, this would be a slam-dunk decision. The 6’1, 194 pound Schmidt is a very solid support defenceman to have on a team, and given the oddity in how Mike Babcock uses Martin Marincin and Matt Hunwick, perhaps having a fresh face on that third pair is the best course of action. Not to mention, as an RFA this year without a lot of hype, it’s not crazy to believe that Toronto could sign him to a deal with term while his value is low and reap the benefits later. While that would leave even more shuffling to do with the players who don’t fit, this seems like a pretty slam dunk, low-risk high reward move to me, if the barrier to acquisition is as low as implied.