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Nate Schmidt brings winning attitude to Golden Knights

Updated September 14, 2017 - 11:24 pm

We have, for the moment, established a key priority for Nate Schmidt.

He really digs the white gloves.

“They’re a little flashy, but that’s what we are, right?” he said. “We’re the Vegas Golden Knights.

“We have to have some flash to our game.”

They also need a locker room for when those anticipated struggles arrive, when four or five losses surround each victory for an NHL expansion team and the chance an acceptance of failure might set in, voices who have known success communicate loudest.

Schmidt will play a major role in professing how winners act, prepare, attack each morning skate and game.

He spent most of the past four seasons with the Capitals, meaning he spent them with a team that in any given year had the potential to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

No one is predicting such a fate for the Knights any season soon, but the team that opens its first training camp in franchise history Friday does so with a roster that includes names all too familiar with the highest degrees of NHL achievement.

“I think it’s a great fit for me, being able to bring some playoff experience from the last few years, from a team that won a lot of games,” Schmidt said. “In a way, others having (no expectations) for us can make us a bit of a dangerous team.

“There’s not a whole lot of pressure on us, and everyone on this team is going to go a little extra harder being this is our first season together, which could make it difficult for others to play against us.”

He understands better now that whole idea about pro sports being a business, taken by the Knights in the expansion draft from a Washington team ridiculously stocked with talented defensemen.

Schmidt in Las Vegas absolutely holds a top-four role along the blue line. Schmidt in Washington had to fight and scratch and claw for the ice time he received among a roster that included names such as Matt Niskanen and John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov and Carl Alzner and Brooks Orpik.

Ridiculous, is right.

“(Schmidt) comes here from what has been one of the top three teams in this league for years now,” fellow Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland said. “To have that type of winning attitude — showing young guys the ropes, how to be a pro, how to take care of their bodies — are all things others can really learn from a guy like that.

“He’s just a solid player all around the ice. Always happy. Always smiling. Always joking. Always keeping the mood light.”

And yet, it wasn’t all kicks and giggles to start.

Schmidt approached the reality of being left unprotected by the Capitals as you might expect a talented 26-year-old who understood that a much larger and more significant role in Las Vegas could lead to a much larger and significant contract: He sought a one-year deal with the Knights, hoping his play this first season would raise his stock across the league.

The Knights had a different plan, desiring to keep him at least two seasons.

Ultimately, a third party decided everyone’s fate.

For the first time since 2015, an NHL deal was settled via arbitration when Schmidt was awarded a two-year contract worth $4.45 million, meaning he received a higher average in salary than he had requested for one season and the team got its two years.

They are realities that can become incredibly ugly, both sides having to present their cases in large part by devaluing the other. In this specific one, a personal relationship was very much part of the equation, given Knights general manager George McPhee signed Schmidt in Washington when the player went undrafted in 2013.

In other words, introductions weren’t needed in the room.

“You know, arbitration is a different animal,” Schmidt said. “You need to understand it’s not personal. You hear your side and it sounds great, and then hear the other side, and you wonder if you should even make the team.

They sunk their teeth in not wanting to be bullied, and it’s the same way for the player.

“But once it was over, George and I talked right away and things were great. No hard feelings. He and I obviously go way back, and we both now want the same thing — to win hockey games and for me to go out and produce as a player. We are all in a great spot now.”

Made even greater, of course, by those white gloves.

“I wanted them before the (arbitration) had been decided,” Schmidt said. “They were like, ‘Not so fast.’

“Now, I have my very own pair.”

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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