A little more than a month ago, the ice at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, which is home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, was replaced with long table, and a stage for teams to announce their 2012 draft picks. It was a weird feeling for Blues fans having to wait nearly three and a half hours to hear who their team would pick at 25th overall, and when the time came, surprise came with it. The Blues picked 18-year old defenseman Jordan Schmaltz with their first pick in the draft, and experts agreed that this was a risky pick, but it could pay dividends for the Blues in the long run. Now Schmaltz has been cut from team USA's World Junior Evaluation Camp, and many are wondering if this year's first round draft pick will be a bust.
Schmaltz was not expected to be taken until the second round of the draft, but the Blues, who could use some more defensive depth, elected to draft Schmaltz because they felt he was a future top-four defenseman, one that would be able to contribute offensively.
“One thing we really loved about the kid is that he’s a (future) top-four defenseman," said Bill Armstrong, Blues Director of Amateur Scouting at the 2012 draft. "He’s got some high-end skill on the power play. One of the strongest things we liked about him was that he can run a power play from up top. He really sees the ice well. He is intriguing in all aspects for us. He has the potential down the road to fill a top-four spot for us.”
Schmaltz was being evaluated with a strong defensive class at the USA camp, a class that overseer Phil Housley described as USA's "strength".
"Personally, I think one of our strengths is our back side," Housley said. "We have a lot of puck-moving defensemen that can skate and have a good head on their shoulders."
Schmaltz was one of eleven players cuts from the camp today. The cuts included five other defenseman.
Schmaltz is a 6'2", 189-pound, offensive-minded defenseman who has a lot of upside offensively. He will attend the University of North Dakota next year to strengthen his game, and his body.
The defenseman put up nice numbers in the 2012 USHL tournament accumulating seven points (two goals, five assists) in 12 games, but with his defensive game lacking, and his inability to keep up with the pace of some of the stronger forwards, Schmaltz was unable to keep his spot on the WJC roster.
“The first three days of camp have been impressive and we have been pleased with the players’ level of competition,” said Jim Johannson, Team USA’s general manager, in a statement on USA Hockey's website. “The players being released today are still among those being evaluated for the team in the coming months. For the players retained, this week’s upcoming international games in Lake Placid give us an opportunity to further assess their skills.”
As Johannson said, even once a player has been cut, he still is being evaluated, and could still find himself on the roster if he performs well before the tournament begins.
Schmaltz admits to needing to add size and strength to his game, along with better defensive play, but the young defenseman has plenty of time to work on these adjustments, and will be in good hands at the University of North Dakota, a team well-known for its hockey program.
While this recent setback seems like a big deal, it really is not. Schmaltz can still make the USA roster, depending on how he plays in the coming months, and is a player with plenty of upside that could make the Blues scouts look like geniuses for taking him earlier than expected.