Each time Nick Schmaltz moves up another level in hockey, he finds a way to keep himself at the top of that new group. Despite that success, however, Schmaltz knows the challenge of continuing that trend gets more difficult with each step.
“With the competition getting better and better, I just have to keep working to stay at the top because the pyramid kind of gets smaller at the top,” said Schmaltz, one of the youngest players on the squad that will represent the United States in the World Junior A Challenge on Nov. 4-10 in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. “There’s so many good players that you have to do what you do best and show your best.”
What Schmaltz does best is create offense.
The 17-year-old from Verona, Wis. led the United States in scoring at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in August and was tied for second in the tournament. Team USA finished second at the eight-team international competition in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
“I’ve played a couple of times for Team USA,” Schmaltz said. “I just got done with the Ivan Hlinka tournament. It’s a really cool experience and I really feel honored.”
Schmaltz has made an early impact on the United States Hockey League and international competition with his impressive set of offensive skills. Those skills have landed him a college scholarship to the University of North Dakota and have made him into an “A” prospect for the 2014 National Hockey League Entry Draft. Three weeks ago, Schmaltz traveled to Pittsburgh to play in the 2013 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game, a showcase event for U.S. players eligible for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
“He’s an elite offensive player,” said Derek Lalonde, who coaches Schmaltz with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers and will also be the U.S. coach for the World Junior A Challenge. “He has vision, feel, creativity, the ability to break down people one-on-one, which is so hard to do in this day and age.
“He makes people really good around him.”
As Schmaltz tries to cement his status as a major NHL prospect, however, he knows he has to show that he can do more than just create scoring opportunities.
“I think I just need to be more of a complete player,” said Schmaltz, who made the trip from the Madison, Wis. area 2-3 times per week for five years to play for the Chicago Mission before making his USHL debut late in the 2011-12 season. “I’m known for my offensive talent, but to be a complete hockey player, you have to play on both ends and I’m just really working on that.
“Green Bay has done a great job of developing me.”
Schmaltz scored 18 goals and had 34 assists last season with the Gamblers, consistently one of the top teams in the top level of U.S. junior hockey.
Lalonde and Schmaltz will both have an idea what to expect at the World Junior A Challenge. Lalonde was an assistant coach last year in the tournament, which the United States has won four of the last five years. Jordan Schmaltz, Nick’s older brother and a current North Dakota player, played in two of the tournaments.
One of the things Lalonde noticed last year was the benefit in having some players who already had some familiarity with each other, since the team needs to mesh quickly.
Lalonde will have three of his Green Bay players with which to work. Jordan Gross and Matthew Weis have also been named to the team.
Like Schmaltz, Gross, an 18-year-old defenseman from Maple Grove, Minn., came into this season with one full and one partial year of experience with the Gamblers. The University of Notre Dame recruit has four assists while helping Green Bay to a 4-1-2 start.
“Jordan is a good puck mover,” Lalonde said. “We want to spend little time getting out of our zone. We really want D to be able to complement our forwards and that’s by playing in transition.
“That’s what Jordan is good at, getting the puck north and out of our zone.”
Weis, an 18-year-old forward from Madison, N.J., has been with the Gamblers longer, after joining the team earlier in the 2011-12 season. The Ohio State University recruit has three goals and an assist this season.
“Matt fits in that he can play anywhere in the lineup,” Lalonde said. “He can play in a shutdown role as a center and he has the ability to play in both the penalty kill and the power play.”
With the top young players from around the world in action, Schmaltz and other prospects like him will get a chance to show their potential to take another future step in hockey.
“I expected the NHL presence to be there, but I was surprised at how big it was,” Lalonde said of last year’s tournament. “When you see how many draft picks have come out of this tournament, you can understand why there is that following there.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.