MINNEAPOLIS — Gophers junior Nate Schmidt was one of the best defensemen in college hockey this season. Now he’s being rewarded at the next level.
Schmidt announced Tuesday that he will forego his senior season at Minnesota and turn pro. The St. Cloud native, who was undrafted, signed a two-year entry-level deal with the Washington Capitals.
“This wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it is the right decision,” Schmidt said in a statement. “I am looking forward to beginning the next chapter of my playing career. … I wouldn’t trade my experience at the University of Minnesota for anything, and I am incredibly grateful to the team and staff for three great seasons at the ‘U.'”
Schmidt led all WCHA defensemen in scoring with 26 points (7 goals, 19 assists), which ranked fifth among all college hockey defensemen. He was named All-WCHA First Team during his junior campaign and finished the season with a plus-15 rating.
“Nate is a great example of someone who was overlooked in the draft but worked hard on and off the ice to put himself in great position to become our top defenseman the last two years,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said in a statement. “He had two tremendous years and felt he was ready to take his game to the next level,.”
There’s a chance the Gophers could lose other players early to the NHL, including forwards Erik Haula, Zach Budish and Nick Bjugstad. Haula, a Minnesota Wild seventh round draft pick in 2009, led the Gophers in scoring this year with 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists). Budish, a draft pick of the Nashville Predators, had 22 points, while Bjugstad, a Florida Panthers pick, had 23 points.
Minnesota was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament but was upset by No. 4 Yale in the first round. The Gophers finished 26-9-5 overall and finished as co-WCHA champions.