Nate Schmidt makes a memorable first impression. And second and third and…
The unabashed extrovert has quickly endeared himself to the Winnipeg Jets organization with his megawatt grin and rapid-fire wit since he reported to training camp a few weeks back.
All in moderation, mind you.
"It’s good to have different personalities. If you had 25 Nate Schmidts…’" winger Blake Wheeler quipped Monday morning.
"That would be scary," chimed in Schmidt, seated next to the Jets captain in the media room at Canada Life Centre.
"You’d need padded walls and a sound-proof locker room," added Wheeler. "It’s been a great addition. Knowing Schmidty just the little bit I’ve known him in the past, I knew he would be a good fit in every way with our organization… he’s fit in incredibly well in every way. I think his personality has been a real boost for our team."
The question now is whether his play can somehow transcend that streaming charm and charisma.
Schmidt, 30, is paired with Josh Morrissey as start of the 2021-22 NHL season draws near, and the Jets need both left-shooting defencemen to rebound from down 2020-21 seasons with their respective squads.
Things didn’t work out for Schmidt in Vancouver, whose offensive numbers dipped to just 15 points in 54 games with the Canucks in the all-Canadian division after three straight 30-plus-point campaigns with the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Jets only surrendered a third-round pick to Vancouver to acquire his services in late July but will pay him just shy of $6 million this season and each of the next three.
Wheeler is confident the fellow Minnesotan will contribute far more than just playful banter, lauding the trades for Schmidt and another veteran blue-liner, Brenden Dillon.
"It wasn’t just moves to fill holes. They’re the right type of additions, too. the type of additions that fit our team and the needs of our team," said Wheeler, preparing for his 11th season opener in a Winnipeg jersey. "Obviously, Schmidty can get up the ice and break the puck out, make a great first pass. "Same with Dilly. (He) brings a little bit of edge to our back end. Like I said before with Nate, just two incredible additions to our locker room, too. They were both home runs."
Dillon is paired with Neal Pionk, Winnipeg’s most dependable and productive defenceman last season. Dylan DeMelo will start the season skating alongside Logan Stanley on the third unit, head coach Paul Maurice all but confirmed Monday.
Schmidt, who is comfortable playing the right side, said the shift to a new organization has been relatively smooth, on and off the ice.
"I’ve enjoyed being in the room. That’s the first thing you have to look forward to when you get to a new group. How much is too much early on? Our group has been really great," Schmidt said. "(After a trade) you’re not really sure how it’s going to work out. You look at the hockey team and you can find out where you fit in as a hockey player. But as you fit in as a person in the room is something that’s completely different.
"That is something that when you look at training camp as a whole, it doesn’t feel like it’s only been three weeks. And that’s something that is a great thing for myself, (Dillon) and guys that are new coming in."
The Schmidt-Morrissey pairing aims to take advantage of its speed and heady play to push the pace as much as possible.
"You know what, playing with Josh (Morrissey) has really helped both of us get our feet moving up the ice. We’re pushing each other a lot. We talk about it each drill, be really aggressive, let’s get our feet moving, let’s try and shut things down early because we can with our feet," Schmidt said.
"If we’re standing around, that’s not going to be good. If we’re moving and getting our feet up the ice and getting into that fourth man’s hole up the ice, that’s when we’re going to be successful as a pair and as a five-man unit that goes on the ice."
Assistant sports editor
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