I don’t know if there’s excitement over Nick Schmaltz’s potential to contribute to the Hawks or more desperation after looking up and down the forwards and realizing he’s about the best chance for any secondary scoring. If it’s the latter… that’s not a good thing, as Corky St. Clair would tell us.
It’s hard to gauge what to even expect out of Schmaltz. The Hawks seemed pretty frantic to get him out of Grand Forks (sidenote: shouldn’t it be easy to convince someone to get out Grand Forks), which gives you the idea that they want him here and not Rockford. Perhaps they think that much of him, perhaps they see the lack of anyone who can make a play in the offensive zone outside of Toews and The Fun Time Boys on the second line. Most likely, it’s a combination of the two.
But it isn’t exactly easy to make the jump from a sophomore in college to contributor in the NHL. Is there recent precedent?
The first thing to notice about Schmaltz is he was in the top-20 in scoring in the NCAA as a sophomore, which is actually pretty impressive. There were only five other underclassmen in the top-20 in NCAA scoring last year. It’s not to be sneezed at (what we would call an “antihistamine accomplishment”). In fact, Schmaltz put up the same amount of points as world-savior, poet-laureate, and Nobel nominee Jimmy Vesey, though three years younger and in a tougher conference. So… what was all that fuss about again?
The previous season, six underclassmen were among the top-20 scorers in the NCAA. They were Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin, Mike Vecchione, Danton Heinen, Trevor Moore, and Vinnie Hinostroza. There’s three names you recognize, two genuine stars and at least what looks like a capable NHL-er in Hinostroza. Vecchione regressed last year in his junior year at Union, Heinen has a good chance of making the Bruins this year, and Moore signed with the Leafs as an undrafted free agent this summer.
Going back two years, there were only four underclassmen in the top-20 in scoring. They were Zac Lynch, Kevin Roy, Riley Barber, and Devin Shore. Shore had three games with the Stars last year and may be poised to be more of a regular this season, especially considering everyone in Dallas is in a cast of some kind at the moment.
Going back one more year, there were only four underclassmen in the top-20, and one of them was Johnny Gaudreau. Another was Kyle Rau, who stayed at Minnesota before joining the Panthers organization a couple years later and getting a smattering of games last season.
So we can see a pretty solid floor here, where kids that have cracked the top-20 in NCAA scoring in their first two years in college have a decent shot at being an NHL-contributor at some point. We also see a decent amount of players who flourished, though Schmaltz doesn’t have quite the pedigree of a Gaudreau or Eichel. This isn’t the most exact science of studying this of course, but it’s at least a hint.
Schmaltz has some challenges of course. He’s listed at 6-0 and 177 pounds, so subtract that to 5-10 and 170 at least, and that’s going to be an issue. He’s also going to have to earn the trust of a coach notorious for randomly being hard on young players but not on others, and he isn’t even here at camp yet.
But the pedigree Schmaltz has shown in college makes it seem more likely than not that he’s got a part to play. The Hawks kind of need him to.