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Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 for 2018: Nick Schmaltz moves up to No. 1

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In his second NHL season, Schmaltz emerged as a legit top-six forward.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

After Nick Schmaltz’s rookie season, there were still some questions about where his hockey career was headed. Was he more like the timid, indecisive player who struggled through the first half of his first NHL season, ultimately getting demoted to the Rockford IceHogs? Or was he more like the savvy playmaker who thrived once he was recalled from the AHL?

Those questions have been answered. Schmaltz established himself as a reliable top-six forward during his second NHL season, finishing with 21 goals (third on the team), 31 assists (also third) and 52 points (three-way tie for second). Now the question is how high will the ceiling go for the 22-year-old center?

Position: Center

Birth date: February 23, 1996

Acquired via: 2014 NHL Draft — first round (20th overall)

Most recent stop: Chicago Blackhawks

Size: 6’0, 177 pounds

Contract: One year, $925,000 cap hit (entry-level contract)

Last year’s ranking: No. 2

Breakdown

Let’s start with what may have been the best Schmaltz highlight of the season: this brilliant no-look pass to set up Patrick Kane for an easy goal against the Winnipeg Jets in December:

There were plenty of moments like that during Schmaltz’s season, as he emerged as a legitimate top-six forward while still at the earliest stages of what could be a promising NHL career. And, as detailed in the article above, Schmaltz teamed up with Kane to form one of Chicago’s biggest offensive threats, but not Schmaltz did not need to have Kane on one of his wings to remain on the positive side of the possession metrics.

Oh, and don’t forget about the defense, either, because Schmaltz has developed into one of the NHL’s best at swiping the puck from his opponent, something we also discussed during the last season.

The one criticism that seems to follow Schmaltz around is that he sometimes opts to pass too much, that he should find more ways to utilize what can be a very effective shot. And this flaw can be exacerbated by Schmaltz’s pairing with Kane, when it seems like the younger player is doing everything in his power to set Kane up with golden scoring chances — sometimes to a fault. Finding that happy medium between when to pass and when to shoot is a struggle for virtually every young offensive talent that reaches the NHL. And if Schmaltz can get a better handle on it, that 52-point total from last season is going to be left in the dust.

What’s next in 2018-19?

It’s the third and final year of Schmaltz’s entry-level deal, and he’ll likely be due for a big raise after this season. Re-signing young players like Schmaltz has been mentioned by general manager Stan Bowman as a primary focus of the extra cap space the Blackhawks created in trading away Marian Hossa’s contract. The question will be how much of a raise Schmaltz earns, because it the 50-point range doesn’t feel like the ceiling for his abilities. As Schmaltz continues to get comfortable at the NHL level, his gifted hands, plus vision, quick feet and ability to steal the puck should all combine to move him into the 60-point range and maybe even crack the 70-point barrier in later years.

Schmaltz has proved the Hawks were justified in trading up to get him at 20th overall in 2014. Now, we get to see just how high his abilities can take him.