Nate Schmidt is the latest of two big dominos to fall the Winnipeg Jets’ direction via trade this offseason. Just one day after the announcement that Brenden Dillon had been acquired from Washington for two second round draft picks, the Jets announced the trade of one third round pick to Vancouver for the services of fellow defender Nate Schmidt.
The 30-year-old firecracker will immediately help solidify some of the ever-present issues on the Jets’ blueline of years’ past. A strong defensive player, Schmidt has been known to provide significant offensive spark, dating back to his time with both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights. Whether slotting in alongside Neal Pionk, Josh Morrissey, Dylan DeMelo, Logan Stanley or Dillon, Schmidt is ready for a change of scenery.
“You know what, it’s a really cool thing to be able to see how much this D-core has kind of changed in the last 24, 48 hours,” he told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “I actually just spoke to Brenden Dillon today, I got a lot of rave reviews from a lot of his former teammates, so I was excited to see a guy that’s rough and tumble and hard to play against. I used to play against him in San Jose when I was in Vegas. He’s not a guy our guys liked playing against. And you know, I think you look at this group, you add myself and Brenden to the group, I think it’s such a great way you can look at how the pairs will possibly line up. There’s a lot of options.”
Going from one of the softest bluelines to a sure-fire, tried and true veteran defence group in a matter of two days, the Jets certainly will boast a tough and physical new-look back-end for the coming years. With Dillon locked in for the next three years at $3.9 million per, Schmidt’s six-year, $35.7 million deal expires following the 2024-25 season, to which he will make $5.95 million for the next four years.
“I think it’s going to suit me to get myself up in the play defensively, closer to guys and check with your feet a little bit more,” Schmidt said of his game plan for the coming season. “But I also think the biggest thing for me, I love watching Neal and Josh this past year skate and moving pucks up and being that second wave. That’s something I don’t think I was as good as I had been in Vegas or Washington in years’ past. When I get back to that this year, it’s going to add a lot more of that dynamic to my game that I didn’t have this last year… I think that’s one of the biggest things for me this year and moving forward and getting back to playing my brand of hockey in this system and working with our D-pairs and just kind moving with our D-pairs forward.”
As for the city of Winnipeg, Schmidt does not have many fond memories, citing the raucous Bell MTS Place to which his former Vegas Golden Knights battled the Jets in the third round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I remember the first playoff run we had a couple years ago and having not been able to hear myself and my ears ringing for three days after we played here,” Schmidt said. “A lot of guys talk about there’s more to the city than what meets the eye. And that’s what a lot of people had said about when we went to Vegas. ‘Oh man, you live on the strip?’ and it’s ‘No, there’s a lot more than meets the eye with this city.’ And Winnipeg is no different. There’s a lot more to the city than what you see, when the guys come to town, right? There’s a lot more to the people, there’s a lot more to it than just going to the rink every day. It’s got a great feel to it, a great hockey community and at the end of the day that is what kind of draws you in and when you have a great team that helps as well.”
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Having played his fair share of hockey at the newly re-named Canada Life Centre, Schmidt does know what he is walking into. Although, this time, he won’t be entering from the visitors’ bench.
“Sometimes a smaller building can really trap that energy and trap that noise, and I think that we have that,” he said of the Jets’ home venue. “I think that’s something that, when I look back, when you got the whiteout coming in and you’re like, ‘wow, like this is it.’ You can see the lines buzzing outside with people amped up during warmups. Like, that’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes playing hockey the best job in the world, is being with the guys, getting the energy and playing in front of fans. And having a chance to win, having a chance to win it all.”
But according to the energetic spark plug, his new city of employment does offer some exciting possibilities.
“It’s Minnesota north and what’s the difference, you’re only a couple of hours away anyway,” the St. Cloud, MN product laughed. “It’s something for me and my fiancee to look at and say, you know, a little bit closer to home as well. Mom and dad can pop up a little easier now that the borders will be all open. All that stuff this year. All things considered is the reason why we’re sitting where we are today.”