Jordan Schmaltz has his sights set on being the latest offensive defenceman to break into the top dozen picks of the NHL draft.
In recent years, Canadian juniors such as Kitchener Rangers blueliner Ryan Murphy and Windsor Spitfires graduate Ryan Ellis have stirred debate over how well their offensive gifts will play at the next level and whether said gifts are backed up by sound defence.
Schmaltz, 18, an elite skater with a stride many call pretty to watch, had his breakout last season when led USHL defencemen in scoring in his first year out of midget. The physical part of the game is the bigger work-in-progress since he carries only 189 pounds on a slender 6-foot-2 frame, although many observers praise his defensive awareness.
"I think I'm more of an offensive defenceman," says Schmaltz, whom HockeyProspect has ranked 12th for the NHL draft. "I like to skate the puck, run the power play. I also play well in my own zone, too, but I'm more of an offensive defenceman."
Schmaltz, who's committed to a top NCAA program at the University of North Dakota, counted 13 goals and 44 points in 53 games last season with Sioux City. It wasn't lost on him that for all his point production, he was only even in plus/minus while playing on a team that finished above .500 at 31-23-6. That was actually satisfying, though, considering the learning curve he had coming from midget hockey.
"I actually was minus-12 at one point in the year when we struggling," says Schmaltz, who hails from Verona, Wisconsin, a suburb of Madison. "I actually got that up to even at the end of the year after we went on our streak [going 9-1 in the final 10 games]. I was happy to end the season as an even player. But it showed me my work in my own end is something I need to improve on."
"I grew a lot off and on the ice," adds Schmaltz. "[Then-Musketeers] Coach [Luke] Strand helped me a lot with that. The game just slowed down for me and I was closer to the player I wanted to be. It helped that I was playing with a lot of really great guys, playing with [current Minnesota-Duluth freshman Caleb] Herbert really helped me get comfortable."
As a highly touted prospect who's chosen the USHL and NCAA path, it's inevitable Schmaltz will face speculation about his hockey port of call next season. The Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires recently made their recruitment of him public, which drew the ire of College Hockey, Inc., head Paul Kelly.
People will believe what they will.
Schmaltz first committed to his hometown Wisconsin Badgers when he was just 14, but things changed two years ago when coach Mark Osiecki moved to Ohio State. Schmaltz notes that his parents, Mike and Lisa, both hail from North Dakota, so there's a certain appeal to playing for the Sioux.
"I just always wanted to be a college player," says Schmaltz, who has three goals and six points in Sioux City's first seven games this fall. "My dad, he went to North Dakota and I have two uncles [Marc and Monte Schmaltz] who played football there. It's kind of been my dream to always go there. They have a great strength coach who's going to help me get a lot stronger and going to school is going to help me a lot. My mom is from there, too, so I have a lot of family up there.
"I just try to stay away from it," Schmaltz says of the speculation. "I try to block it out and not think much of it."
"Just growing into my body and knowing what it takes to be professional. Those are really big things, figuring out what you are and what you can bring to a team."
2. You have mentioned John Carlson and Drew Doughty as NHLers you have looked at as models for your game. What parts of their games are not there for you, but you're hoping to blend it into your style of play sooner rather than later?"
"I think they keep it really simple. They take care of their own end really well. They have good sticks. They make a good first pass. Those are things I need to work on in order to have a well-rounded game."
3. Outside of family, who has had the most impact on you in hockey?
"Troy Ward, the head coach for Abbotsford in the AHL. We [he and 15-year-old brother Nick] have always done private lessons with him in the summers back in Madison [Wisconsin] where we're from. He's just taught us a lot about how to be a professional and a lot of little skills as well. He's really great coach and a good person."
4. What is your proudest achievement in hockey?
"Either winning the U17 [world under-17 challenge] with Team USA [in January 2010] or winning the U.S. under-18 national championships with the Chicago Mission. Those were both big moments ... they're kind of different things. With the USA thing, I was kind of brought in as an extra player for the NTDP [national team development program] team. Winning that championship with them was pretty special, especially beating a Canadian team in Canada. That was pretty cool. With the Mission, it was about the guys putting it all together at the right time."
5. Favourite TV show or movie?
"TV show, I'd have to go with Friday Night Lights. I'm a really big fan of it. My roommates in Sioux City were big on it last year, so I started watching it with them and really got hooked. There's obviously a lot of similar things [to hockey] in it, about what it's like to be a team and the drama around it and coming together around the common goal of winning a championship."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: Jim Utterback, Sioux City Musketeers).