The Tampa Bay Lightning announced today that they have signed defenseman Roman Schmidt to a three-year entry level contract. Schmidt was selected in the third round, 96th overall in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. A right-handed defenseman, he’s listed at 6’6” and 209 pounds.
The Lightning selected Schmidt from the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP) where he played for two seasons. During his two year stint with the USNTDP, he played intra-squad and USHL games and recorded 16 goals, 34 assists, and 50 points in 147 games played. Most USNTDP players tend to go to NCAA hockey, but Schmidt instead decided to go to the OHL and play with the Kitchener Rangers this season where he has recorded six goals and 11 points in 22 games.
Many players, especially defensemen, of his size usually have question marks around their skating. It usually takes big skaters a longer time to get their form right and grow into their longer limbs than it does for their shorter counterparts. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Schmidt as some scouts have called him “surprisingly mobile” for his size. That likely has something to do with his parentage. His father, Derek, was a Canadian Figure Skater and his mother, Elizaveta, was a two-time Olympic ice dancer for Kazakhstan.
Schmidt’s parents were coaching figure skating in Michigan when Roman was born, and between that and his father being Canadian, he holds dual citizenship in the United States and Canada. Despite spending time during his childhood in both countries, he has twice appeared for Team USA at national tournaments.
Schmidt recorded a goal and two points in six games for USA at the 2019-20 U17 World Hockey Challenge, winning a Silver Medal. He appeared again in 2020-21 at the U18 World Junior Championship, skating in five games without recording a point. However, Schmidt will not be representing Team USA at the U20 World Junior Championship this year as he was not invited to their training camp. However, he’ll be eligible for next year’s WJC and will have more of an opportunity to crack the line-up then.
Schmidt isn’t the flashiest defenseman with the puck and is better known for his defensive game. He has two-way potential though and we’ll look to see that continue to grow as he’ll finish out this season and next season in the OHL before moving up to the professional ranks.
Being right handed also doesn’t hurt his chances of making it to the NHL as right handers on the blue line are always a coveted commodity. It will likely be several years before he makes his way to the top line, but the potential is there for him to be a third pairing, physical defenseman that plays sound defense and contributes on the penalty kill.
I generally dislike drawing comparisons between prospects and current NHLers, but it’s hard not to look at Schmidt and not see a little bit of Erik Cernak. Cernak was never a stellar point producer in the OHL, only recording seven goals and 36 points in 91 career OHL games. Like Schmidt, he didn’t start in the OHL until his Draft+1 season. Cernak didn’t light up the score sheet in the AHL either, recording just seven goals and 25 points in 80 career AHL games.
Cernak though does provide a blueprint for the development path for Schmidt and some hope for a similar type of player behind Cernak in the depth chart at some time in the future. Cernak has become a valuable top four defenseman precisely because of the soundness of his defensive game and the physical edge he plays with. With Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, and Mikhail Sergachev still set to man the left side for quite a while in Tampa Bay, players like Cernak and hopefully Schmidt are valuable complementary defensemen to their more offensively talented defense partners.