For Nick Schmaltz, the decision wasn’t an easy one.
He could have stayed at the University of North Dakota, which won its first national title since 2000. The program has always been strong, and the team could vie for that title again this season. Or he could sign with the Blackhawks who, thanks once again to cap issues, could be looking to young prospects to fill roles.
Last week, Schmaltz chose the Blackhawks. Now he’s ready to see what he can do in his first professional hockey season.
Schmaltz signed a three-year, entry-level deal with the Blackhawks on Sunday. The Wisconsin native is ready for the next step but admits making that final decision wasn’t easy.
“It was a long decision making process, but I just talked with my family and my advisor and thought I’m ready for the next step,” Schmaltz said in a phone conversation on Tuesday. “Obviously it’s hard to leave UND. It’s a great program, and I had some of the best years in my life there. I can’t thank them enough. But I’m excited for the next chapter.”
The previous chapter was certainly a good one. Schmaltz went from a 26-point freshman season to a 46-point sophomore season with North Dakota, which defeated Quinnipiac for the national title in April. Schmaltz said UND had the combination this past season.
“We had a big freshman class and we got them in, brought them under our wing and showed them the way of UND hockey. We had a great goaltender. Cam Johnson stepped up and played a huge role for us. And we had a lot of depth on forward and D,” Schmaltz said. “Everyone just played to their strengths, didn’t go out of their comfort zones. Just played hard.”
Considering how many are returning to that team this season, Schmaltz was tempted to stay.
“It was definitely a hard decision. They get treated so well there, treated like a first-class organization. All my teammates are such good guys, and they wanted me to come back,” he said. “At the end they support me with what I do, proud I’m moving on.”
The Blackhawks welcome Schmaltz in after once again losing a few pieces. The team traded Bryan Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen to the Carolina Hurricanes last Tuesday. On a conference call that night, general manager Stan Bowman specifically mentioned the not-yet-signed Schmaltz’s potential. So did the Blackhawks’ latest moves ultimately lead to Schmaltz signing?
“They definitely have some holes they need to fill, but I have a lot of work to do this summer to step into that role,” said Schmaltz, who will attend the Blackhawks’ prospect camp again next month. “I’ll do whatever I can to get ready. I’ll just work my hardest, and wherever I end up, I’ll be happy. I’ll work to be the best I can be.”
Schmaltz learned plenty in his time at UND. He said he’s gotten stronger on his puck play as well as his game in all three zones. He’s gotten better at winning puck battles. He’s certainly learned how to play in pressure situations and what it takes to win it all. Now he’ll apply those lessons with the Blackhawks.
“I can’t wait. I’m just training and getting ready, being as well prepared as I can be for camp,” Schmaltz said. “I’m excited, and it’ll be a fun ride.”