When the Golden Knights hit the ice again for real on October 2nd, there will be a rookie defenseman wearing steel grey and gold.
With the departure of Colin Miller, George McPhee confirmed as much and the candidates to win the job are Zach Whitecloud, Nic Hague, Dylan Coghlan, Jake Bischoff, and Jimmy Schuldt.
Schuldt was the only one of the five who played for the Golden Knights in 2018-19. Of course, it was just one game, but Schuldt’s impact was certainly felt and it was his first chance to stake claim to the job he likely has the inside track to winning.
For those who’ve forgotten, Schuldt was an undrafted free agent who signed out of St. Cloud State following his senior year. He was a Hobey Baker finalist in each of his final two seasons and put up 118 points and 38 goals over his 156 games as a Husky (the most ever by a defenseman in program history). Schuldt was highly sought after as 30 of the 31 teams reportedly offered him a contract out of college.
Schuldt’s one and only game was the final game of the regular season at the Staples Center in LA against the Kings. He played 21:03, tallied one assist, recorded one shot, and racked up a -1 rating. He took 22 total shifts in that game and recently I went back and watched them all.
Obviously, one game, especially a player’s first career NHL game, is not enough to judge a player, but for Schuldt, it’s all we’ve got and Gerard Gallant was not shy to use him.
Schuldt’s offensive game is what stuck out most over the course of his 22 shifts making positive offensive plays on more than half of them. It was the other end that was a little shaky. Let’s start with the good though.
The most memorable play was the one that put him on the scoresheet. A pass from the high slot perfectly onto Valentin Zykov’s stick set up an easy tap in goal and the first point of Schuldt’s NHL career.
The pass is beautiful, but the pinch before it might be just as influential on the play. Schuldt reads the rebound and jumps up the ice to win to the puck and keep it alive. His pinching ability on the game was excellent only failing to win the puck once.
His offensive positioning was a little more aggressive than the Golden Knights blueliners usually use though. A number of times he was caught too low in the zone and the defenseman was able to either pass or chip the puck around/over him to start breakouts. None of them led to goals, but there were a few moments in which a transition break was started and Schuldt was left behind.
His next best play came on a defensive zone draw which was one cleanly to him.
Schuldt nicely loses the attacker before pushing the puck up to Brandon Pirri. Then, continuing through the play, Schuldt collects a turnover and knocks a nice little backhand pass to Pirri creating a scoring chance. That’s the exact type of play Gallant and Ryan McGill like to see out of Golden Knights defenseman. Schuldt moves the puck quickly and safely to start a transition chance and creates an extra option in the offensive zone when then puck is turned over. Very Nate Schmidt esque.
Finally, there’s the play which led to the Golden Knights first goal. After Vegas loses a draw, Schuldt steps in front of a neutral zone pass to start a play the other way. It eventually leads to a goal.
Finally, Schuldt’s aggressiveness and willingness to activate offensively is exciting. It’s the part of the game that’s the toughest to time properly as a defenseman and Schuldt was able to pull it off three or four times in his first NHL game. He didn’t receive the puck on any of them, but every time a defenseman activates the opposing defense must take note and stop it. It opens up plays for forwards and it often creates scoring chances out of seemingly nothing. Schuldt showed more in his 22 shifts than a majority of Golden Knights blueliners have in two years in this regard. That’s exciting.
Then, there’s the bad. Remember though, this is his very first NHL game after practicing with the team for less than a month.
Schuldt never really looked comfortable when defending against a rush. Off of draws and when collecting dump-ins he was excellent, but when the puck was being carried into the zone, Schuldt and Engelland had all sorts of trouble sorting out plays. Once it led directly to a goal while multiple other times it left Schuldt standing in front of Fleury waiting to find the right player to defend. Continuity and experience should correct this issue quickly.
Finally, there’s another play which led directly to a Kings goal.
The puck is headed in behind the goal where Fleury picks it up. Schuldt heads to the red line to present himself as an option, but he’s both too tight to Fleury and not deep enough in the zone to present a safe option prior to the forechecker cutting off the play. Granted, the pass is still there, but instead, Fleury makes the more difficult pass to Zykov, who turns it over and Jeff Carter is gifted a goal. This play isn’t about Schuldt stopping Carter on the shots, rebounds, and subsequent goal, it’s about speeding up the game a bit more to simplify the game on Fleury.
All this being said, this is a minor mistake that is amplified grossly due to a d-zone turnover by a winger. (Though, I must admit, the more I watch it, the more I feel like this is much more on Fleury than Schuldt’s positioning. And WAY more on Zykov who turns it over.)
All in all, Schuldt played an excellent game and came along nicely as the game progressed. His confidence in his offensive abilities is thrilling for the future and likely will give him the upper-hand in winning the job out of camp. He was poised on the power play and his skating looked terrific both backing into the zone as well as skating in and out of it. He’s got some steps to take in defending against NHL offenses, but that’s not abnormal when it comes to a 24-year-old just breaking in.
Schuldt is the player I’ve seen the least of, but his one game, 22 shifts worth, has me as a firm believer that he’s the frontrunner to be a third pair defenseman on opening night against San Jose.
I kept notes on each of his 22 shifts, here they are…
Spent about a minute on the ice, but a rash of stoppages and lost draws never really allowed him to do much of anything.
Shift starts out by jumping into play offensively. Plays it in deep. Correct pinch to gather loose puck. Good shielding of it to sent it back in deep. Good gap on transition on Kopitar. Kept him to outside and forced him around net. Block in front of net. Wins battle behind net on Alex Iafallo but turned it over skating it out and then got leveled. Led to dangerous scoring chance.
Showed good burst of speed to start shift. Plays simple bank pass behind the goal to Engelland to help clear zone. Very aggressive forechecking forces play to slow and eventually cause dump in. Sets up breakout from behind net, sends long pass to Carrier who tips it in deep.
Draw won clean to him, jumps in deep to Quick. Well up off blue line as puck sent in behind him harmlessly to Fleury. Joined rush but puck caught in skates on shooting attempt. Stuck in front of net, couldn’t win puck but got it out of slot. 2nd to puck on rebound from shot from the point. Jumped up in transition rush out before curling back to change.
Playing opposite side off draw, puck won to him, tapped to Engelland who put it in deep. Aggressive off blue line again as puck chipped over his head into NZ. Puck won back into zone, drop pass from Reaves to Schuldt comes up short, Schuldt pushes it in under goal line. Both he and Engelland defend puck carrier causing Engelland to push player out and Schuldt left with no one to cover. Backcheck forces puck free to Schuldt who wins stick battle out to Karlsson. Schuldt joins 3-on-2 rush but puck lost in miscommunication between Karlsson and Zykov. Dangerous clear of zone just bounces out. Puck comes back in, Schuldt hits Karlsson in center of the ice. Changes right before Zykov TO leads to goal.
Helps on crossing forward to challenge shot from slot. Fleury rebound cleared by Engelland. Schuldt joins 4-on-3 rush before backing off as puck sent in deep. Solid positioning while guarding two players leads to shot that Fleury stops. Kings recover puck, Schuldt blocks shot. Kings dump in, Fleury gathers. Schuldt presents himself in corner, but Fleury opts to chip out to Zykov instead. Zykov chip out stolen and sent towards goal, Schuldt unable to recover on time vs Carter who scores on own 2nd rebound.
Shift 7 (PP)
Collects puck behind net to start breakout. Drops it off safely (actually advancing it because of forechecker) to Pacioretty. Gets pass at blueline off entry, moves it to Pirri along blue line. Gets it back, not great pass into Pirri’s skates. Moves it a couple times safely to Pacioretty and Pirri. Shift ends on puck tipped out of play.
Collects puck nicely on dump in, quickly up to Carpenter in NZ. Beat in skating race through NZ and to net, but pass doesn’t connect. Helps win stick battle along boards to clear zone.
Draw won clean to Schuldt, walks straight in along boards and through circles to take shot, right at Quick. Jumps through slot to present option to Bellemare, but Bellemare doesn’t pass to him.
Draw won to Schuldt, feeds it into Tuch but nothing happens as Kings clear. Twice in offense zone possession creeps down towards the goal, neither time passes come his way. Receives pass in high slot at blue line, quickly fires in deep. Intercepts breakout pass just outside of zone, calmly stalls before sending it back in all the way around to Marchessault which creates scoring chance.
Puck entered in as he backs in with Engelland. Confusion sorting out defense appears to be cleared but Schuldt follows Kopitar to corner behind Engelland. Defense never settles and finds 5th man in, Roy snipes Fleury for goal.
Following goal, draw won to Kings, Schuldt picks off NZ pass to start quick transition into o-zone. Pass hits Carpenter who gets in in deep. Forechecking and Engelland pinch lead to turnover and Pirri goal.
Hops on ice with puck already in o-zone. Great pinch off rebound to keep puck alive. Retreats to blue line where he receives pass from Marchessault with plenty of time and space. Perfect pass to the goal line to Zkyov who puts it into empty net.
Comes up to bump player in NZ forcing puck back. Shot from point tipped away by Zykov. Pinches in but loses battle. Zykov recovers puck behind him allowing him to get back. Wins loose puck in NZ, then calmly fights along blue line to negate offside and dump in.
Shift 14 (PP)
Speed to dump in as Kings change, simple d-to-d to Engelland who gets it out before forecheckers enter. VGK earns PP.
Nice backhand pass quickly to Pirri to help set up chance. Starts brekaout with lead pass to Pirri. Pass over to Pacioretty jumps off Max’s stick.
Sends puck in deep. Aggressive forechecking off blue line to help keep play alive for Stastny. Calmly picks up chipped pass in NZ to send back towards o-zone, but VGK offside upon entry.
Shift begins on d-zone draw. Schuldt gets puck off draw, buttonhooks out of trouble and quickly moves puck up to Pirri in transition. Nice little touch pass on Kings d-zone turnover helps set up scoring chance that is saved by Quick. Puck sent in towards Fleury who leaves it for Schuldt. Schuldt quickly darts around own goal with puck to move it out to Pirri.
Shift 17 (playing with Miller)
Nice use of body to shield puck away from attacker and goal. Aggressive on NZ challenge, puck gets in behind him. No damage. Good head up skating and pass on clean breakout.
Shift 18 (playing with Miller)
Schuldt pass through NZ broken up. Missed stick check leads to shot, saved. Schuldt carries it out, hits Stastny in NZ.
Good pass in deep off draw, but play broken up quickly. Quick pass through NZ to Reaves to start entry.
Shift 20 (playing with Miller)
Excellent physical battle win on defensive blue line to win and start play going the other way.
Shift 21 (playing with Miller)
Good skating play to gain red line and dump puck in. Retrieves poor pass from Miller to bat it towards Tuch. Looked a little unsure defending, but nothing comes of it. Excellent stretch pass to send Zykov into zone.
Good gap on zone entry. Nothing he can do on the empty netter.