By Kirk Luedeke
For teams in need of a mobile, puck-moving defenseman at a bargain rate, Green Bay Gamblers rearguard Jordan Schmaltz could fit the bill in the late first or early second round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh on June 22-23.
|Jordan Schmaltz led Green Bay defensemen with seven points in 12 playoff games. (Getty Images)|
The smooth and heady USHL defenseman and Chicago Mission AAA midget alumnus is fresh off of winning the 2012 Clark Cup championship. Now, the Verona, Wisconsin native will wait to see which NHL club calls his name in Pittsburgh.
“Coming from the Chicago Mission to the USHL was a big step,” Schmaltz said before his early autumn trade from the Sioux City Musketeers. “As the season continued, I grew as a player not only on the ice but off the ice as well. I matured as a person and that helped me to be a better defenseman for my team.”
Although scouts are divided this season on where Schmaltz will land in the draft, there is no denying he’s a skilled rearguard whose excellent hockey sense and vision along with his 6-foot-2 frame make him a coveted commodity for all of the NHL’s 30 clubs.
“He’s very offensively gifted,” said former Sioux City head coach Luke Strand. “He has high-end offensive awareness; he’s got great vision and patience with the puck to let something develop and make the right play.”
As Schmaltz continues his physical maturation, he could turn into a player who will not only lead the rush and quarterback the power play, but whose positional prowess should only get better with a more powerful upper body and increased leg drive.
“Jordan is a tall, slender guy,” Strand said. “As he matures physically, his strength will propel him along. He has a hard shot. I wouldn’t say it’s a laser, but it’s heavy. As he gets stronger, he’ll get more power behind it.”
It was a tale of two seasons for Schmaltz.
His regular season production was relatively disappointing after coming to the high-powered Gamblers from Sioux City. However, in the postseason, the University of North Dakota recruit demonstrated why he was a desired commodity, costing Green Bay four players in the deal. Green Bay rolled through the USHL playoff competition, ultimately capturing the league’s top prize for the second time in three seasons thanks in part to Schmaltz’s effectiveness in the transition game and on special teams.
As a rookie in 2010-11, Schmaltz tallied 13 goals and 44 points in 53 games for the Musketeers. In 55 games split between Sioux City and Green Bay, he put up 10 goals and 41 points, including seven markers and 28 assists in 46 contest for the Gamblers. In 12 postseason games, Schmaltz scored twice and added five assists in the championship run.
Although the mobility and vision/passing skills are Schmaltz’s greatest assets, he needs to improve his physical play and defensive positioning. He makes up for the lack of physicality with an active stick, but is lacking in refinement and polish, experience he should get in Grand Forks.
“Schmaltz was a bit of a disappointment for me after the rookie year he had,” said one Eastern Conference NHL scout recently. “He’s a legitimate ‘PMD’ with a nice shot and the ability to quarterback the power play. Having said all of that, there were times when he didn’t seem to be all that engaged in all three zones. He’s not talented enough to play like that at the next level and see success.”
Even with the concerns, the 18-year-old with an October, 1993 birthdate brings enough of the raw materials that NHL teams look for. If just one of them feels he can bring a similar upside to the player Schmaltz admired most as a youngster, then he could go as early as the late first round in Pittsburgh.
“(Scott Niedermayer) was so smooth,” Schmaltz said of the future Hall of Famer who won four Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils and Anaheim Ducks. “He was an all-around defenseman and I really liked watching him. He can play in all situations and helped out both with the offense, but also played well defensively. That’s what I try and do whenever I can.”
Schmaltz added that he currently enjoys watching Kings star and Stanley Cup champion Drew Doughty and Washington young gun John Carlson as two NHL defensemen he identifies with the most in terms of emulating their styles.
A bit of controversy surrounded Schmaltz when de-committed from the University of Wisconsin in favor of North Dakota last year. He had signed on with the Badgers as a high school freshman at age 14, but when former Wisconsin assistant coach Mark Osiecki went to Ohio State to be head coach, Schmaltz chose Grand Forks over Madison.
“At the time (I committed to Wisconsin), I heard a lot of great things about Coach Oz and thought it was the place for me,” he said. “Once he left, I wasn’t sure who they would bring in, and that was a big part of my decision."
With Schmaltz ready to compete for North Dakota’s storied program, it will be interesting to see how much he develops as an NHL prospect over the next several years. Will he take his potential to another level as he fills out to a projected 195-200 pound playing weight, or does Schmaltz stagnate?
In many ways, the talented but inconsistent defender is the poster child for the critics of the 2012 NHL draft class. Much more was expected of him given his immediate impact of a year ago, but that intriguing potential has lost a little luster with the draft less than a week away.
Even with the questions, Schmaltz could end up being one of the more skilled and productive defenders to come out of this group, so teams seriously looking at drafting him will likely go back to the raw upside he displayed a year ago before making their final decision.
In today’s NHL, there is no question that his skill set translates, and although he did not take that anticipated step forward, there is plenty of time for him to do so in the NCAA ranks.