Schmaltz leaves strong first impression

The Blackhawks continue to be confident in their choice to draft Nick Schmaltz. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- Nick Schmaltz may just be a future linemate for Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Schmaltz is only 18 years old and heading into his freshman year at North Dakota, so he won’t be joining the duo anytime soon. But with Kane and Toews signing their eight-year extensions and Schmaltz showing off some rare offensive ability at the Blackhawks prospect camp last week, it’s not a complete reach to envision Schmaltz complementing one of their lines down the line.

“He's got obvious top-six potential for sure if he pans out,” ESPN's NHL Draft and Prospects analyst Corey Pronman said of Schmaltz. “His puck skills and vision are the clear strengths of his game.”

Schmaltz displayed those skills throughout the six-day Blackhawks prospect camp last week. He made defenders miss with his stick-handling. He was able to create space and time for himself, but he also generated chances for his teammates with his deft moves. Alongside forwards John Hayden and Anthony Louis, Schmaltz had one goal and four assists over the camp’s first three scrimmages.

It’s that upside that motivated Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman to get on the phone during the NHL draft last month and negotiate a trade with the San Jose Sharks to be able to move up seven spots in the first round to draft Schmaltz. The Blackhawks gave up their 27th and 62nd picks to select Schmaltz.

“At the time I saw Nick Schmaltz play, I was very impressed with his skill set,” Bowman said at the Blackhawks convention last weekend. “He was a guy we had very highly ranked. You look at the potential that he has to fit in the way we play, and we were really excited. You can compare his skill set to a lot of players, but you look at what he was able to accomplish this year and the way our team plays, I think giving him some time to fill out his frame a little bit, he’s got those abilities you just can’t teach.”

Blackhawks amateur scouting director Mark Kelley did a majority of the evaluating of the 6-foot, 172-pound Schmaltz and had him high on the list of the offensively-skilled players in the NHL draft. One of Schmaltz’s skills especially stood out to Kelley.

“His hands, they’re fast,” Kelley said at the NHL draft.

Schmaltz isn’t a finished product, and that also attracted the Blackhawks to him. The Blackhawks weren’t looking for someone in the first round they could rush to the NHL. They sought someone with a high ceiling, but who would need time to get there.

Derek Lalonde coached Schmaltz for three seasons on the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League and believes Schmaltz fit exactly what the Blackhawks were searching for in the draft. Lalonde praised Schmaltz’s offensive game, especially his quick hands, but also pointed out his weaknesses.

“The quick hands Mark [Kelley] alluded to, you just don’t see it often,” Lalonde said in a recent phone interview. “You see it a little bit with Patrick Kane. I’m not going to compare him to Patrick. He’s a special world-class talent.

“But you think you’re going to defend it and get a stick on it, and all of a sudden he takes it away and make a play with it. He can create off any situation. He makes every player around him better. He has a high, high IQ.”

The occasional knocks on Schmaltz have been over his consistency and effort away from the puck. Those were areas Lalonde was sure Schmaltz would concentrate on in college.

“I’m really confident he was a top-6, top-7 talent this year, but it was his lack of consistency that dropped him to where he was,” Lalonde said. “It’s something he knows. I think he’s going to the perfect school at North Dakota. He’ll be held accountable. The good thing about Nick is he’s an elite talent. At the pro level, his evaluation is good. He’ll improve in those other areas.”

Schmaltz, a Wisconsin native and lifelong Blackhawks fan, was hopeful he began that process during the prospect camp.

“It was a great experience, a lot of new coaches and I learned a lot of new things,” Schmaltz said on the final day of the camp. “I've just got to work on all areas of my game and hopefully bring that to North Dakota, and just improve every day and every year.”