The NCAA season is coming to an end. Like every year, some college players will be attracting the attention of NHL teams. We take a look at the most interesting options of this year’s NCAA free agency class.
Jimmy Schuldt has been on the radar of the Montreal Canadiens for a while now. He was invited, along with Ryan Poehling and other St. Cloud State University players Jon Lizotte and Robby Jackson, to attend their development camp in the summer, and was a standout among the participants.
We can bet that he is a player that the scouting staff of the organization has been evaluating a lot this year, and the interest would have only grown with his status as a pending free agent. Elliotte Friedman reported a few months back that Habs sent a contingent to take a look at the defenceman. The proximity that Schuldt has with Montreal’s 2017 first-round pick gives them the perfect excuse for a visit.
This tie also makes the potential acquisition of the player likelier than most other free agents in this NCAA class. Schuldt is in his junior year with St. Cloud and, in addition to the fact that he is currently heading to the Frozen Faceoff with Poehling, has also played for a year with Charlie Lindgren in 2015-16.
Those two members of the organization could put in a good word to convince the 22-year-old left-handed defenceman to head to Montreal following his last year with the Huskies.
And what a year it has been for Schuldt.
He is currently third in the NCAA in scoring for defencemen with 38 points in 39 games, including 10 goals. He also led his team in points before some of the older forwards on his team caught up. Due to his great performance this season, he has recently made the top-10 shortlist for the Hobey Bakar Award, given to the league's MVP. He is the lone defenceman nominated.
Given the title of captain last year, Schuldt has been a force for St. Cloud leading them in a 2017-18 season where they have consistently flirted with the number-one rank. He is a team-first player, has not missed a game during his entire college hockey career, and seems to embody everything that a coach could want from a player in terms of attitude.
“I think I’ve been pretty good. In my game, I’ve never let points define how I’m playing,” he said. “I can be playing fantastic and have no points. I can be playing sub-par, make a breakout pass and get a point.” Jimmy Schuldt St. Cloud Times
“He’s one of the few guys in here who will speak up and speak his mind and kind of get after the team ... in a good way. He’s a natural-born leader.” - Bob Motzko St. Cloud Times
While Schuldt himself doesn't seem to care too much about his point total, the offensive side to his game is where he excels the most. He patrols the offensive blue line with confidence and has a rocket of a shot, one that has been constantly fed by his teammates.
The defenceman has recorded an average of more than three shots per game this season, which places him fourth in the NCAA for defenceman, and has him trail only Mikey Eyssimont in this category on St. Cloud’s roster.
He is a grade-A weapon on the Huskies' power play, scoring eight of his 10 goals with the man advantage. His team recognizes his talent on the point and often tries to maximize movement at the top of the zone to find a lane for him to fire in.
He has a very quick release on his slapshot, but it doesn't prevent him from generating some real power behind it. This combination of speed and strength would already be deadly, but Schuldt is also accurate, and has beaten many goalies cleanly this season.
There lies his biggest NHL upside. His sharpshooting abilities from the blue line means that he should be able to put up some points in the big league, even in an environment where time and space is reduced.
St. Cloud's captain isn't only a big shooter. He is an integral part of the team's defence, and someone who cares most about his plus/minus at the end of the night.
He plays the game with an edge, enjoying physical play, and rarely turns down an opportunity for a hit. He could learn to time those better, as to not take himself out of certain defensive situations, but players coming down on his side of the ice know that the possibility of getting crushed is very real if they're not careful.
His defensive game relies on punishing opponents more than quick pokechecks or taking away passing lanes, but he has a strong ability to wear down players along the boards and in front of the net. He also takes a real pride in blocking the most shots out of everyone on the ice. Schuldt and his partner Lizotte lead St. Cloud with a staggering 84 blocked shots in 39 games.
He assisted on one of Poehling's breakaway goals this season by first going down to block a shot, then quickly retrieving the puck to spring his centre, creating a one-on-one chance with the goalie.
Schuldt makes the odd great play — like the one above — on the breakout, but most of his game is anchored in a defensive mentality. He doesn't take much risk with the puck and doesn't have the one-one-one skills to evade forecheckers and carry his team out of their own end, be it by creative passing or skating it out himself.
He relies on his teammates to be on the boards as rim options and will often choose to chip the puck out when pressured. His potential as a puck-mover, when not in the offensive zone, remains limited.
This is one of the reason why Schuldt will more than likely need AHL time before being able to contribute to an NHL team. He needs to get adjusted to a different pace, and be comfortable in a team's system to have an easier time finding his marks on the ice. He will also have to work on his off-the-rush defence against opponents that will be a lot faster than what he is used to, and learn to contain those same players in the defensive zone, using some of the same strategies that gave him success in the NCAA.
Jimmy Schuldt is a player who would bring a competitive fire to the organization instantly, be it with the big club or just a bit further north in Laval. He is exactly the kind of prospect the Habs should target to improve their depth. He has been in a winning environment, values two-way play, and is, in all likelihood, not done improving.