Nate’s back! But now he needs a partner, and finding the right option not only for Schmidt, but also for the rest of the blueline is easier said than done for the Golden Knights.
Last year eventual Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant paired Schmidt with either Luca Sbisa or Brayden McNabb for a majority of the season. As the season went on Schmidt played most of his time on the top pair with McNabb. Now, as Schmidt is set to return the question is, should he go back with McNabb or is there a better option?
If the Schmidt/McNabb pair is indeed once again reunited, not much else will change in the lineup. Colin Miller will slide down to play with Nick Holden and Shea Theodore and Deryk Engelland will remain together.
However, an argument can be made that Miller and McNabb have been the best and most consistent pair, and maybe they shouldn’t be split up. Thus Schmidt would have to find a new home. Since Nate plays on the right side, there are really only two options for who he can play with, Theodore or Holden.
The top option is the one I prefer them most as there balance, there’s a puck mover on each line, and all three lines and can be deployed against any opponent line.
The other option is intriguing though. Theodore hasn’t really been his normal self this season. He doesn’t seem to be joining the rush as much, his pinches are fewer and further between, and he’s been caught out on goals far too often. Could Schmidt help him solve some or all of those issues? That could easily turn into Vegas’ top pair for years to come if it indeed clicks. It does, however, leave a major gap between the top two pairs and the third one. Any usable combination of Holden, Engelland, Hunt, and Merrill scares me. It would likely lead to an increase in TOI for the top two pairs and a protected pair mainly relied upon for penalty killing as the third.
No matter how Gallant decides to run them out, and my guess is he’ll go with the first set in this article, Schmidt’s return should help everyone. It’ll return every defenseman to a more familiar role further down in the lineup and it should ease the responsibility load for the likes of Miller, Holden, Theodore, and Engelland.
Nate has a lot of weight on his shoulders coming back. He has to make an impact, and a big one right away because if he doesn’t, this team could be dead in the water before the month ends.