Eight years ago tonight, Mike Green made his NHL debut for the Capitals against the Hurricanes in Raleigh. Brendan Witt was his defense partner that night, and Green ended up skating 14:14, about half the workload he assumes on most nights these days.
Washington ended up on the short end of a 7-2 score against the Canes that night.
Green celebrates his 28th birthday tonight as the most experienced (467 games) of the six defensemen the Caps will put on the ice tonight against then Colorado Avalanche at Verizon Center.
In the wake of Thursday’s upper body injury to veteran blueliner John Erskine, Washington has summoned 22-year-old defenseman Nate Schmidt from AHL Hershey. Schmidt will make his NHL debut tonight against the undefeated (4-0) Avalanche.
Just over six months ago, Schmidt signed his first NHL contract.
Just over seven months ago, Steve Oleksy played in his first NHL game for the Caps at Verizon Center against the Boston Bruins. Tonight, Oleksy will play his third game of the season with his third different blueline partner, and he’ll be the fourth most experienced of Washington’s six rearguards in the game tonight.
Oleksy paired with Connor Carrick last Saturday in Dallas and was with Alexander Urbom on Thursday against Carolina. Tonight, Oleksy will help to break in Schmidt while Urbom skates alongside John Carlson. As usual, Green will play with Karl Alzner.
“To be honest, to start the season it’s nice,” says Oleksy. “It lets you get used to everybody a little bit and you get to learn guys’ tendencies a little bit. It’s fun to mix it up every once in a while and play with different guys. Three guys in three games, it’s a little challenge, but it’s fun all in one.”
Schmidt was signed as an undrafted free agent on April 2 of this year upon the conclusion of his junior season at the University of Minnesota. The St. Cloud Minn. native reported to Hershey late in the 2012-13 season, getting into eight regular season and five playoff games at the AHL level in his professional baptism.
“It happened really quickly from the end of last season right into this year,” says Schmidt. “It really kind of happened quickly. I got to play my first preseason games this year, and it’s been an interesting ride so far. I’m really enjoying it. I’ve just got to go out there and play my game tonight.”
He got his first taste of NHL preseason action this fall, posting two assists and a plus-1 rating in three exhibition contests with the Caps.
“It helped tremendously,” says Schmidt of his preseason experience. “Our top guys are playing, and you kind of get a familiarity with where guys are, how they’re playing and what types of players they are. And it’s the same thing with the opposing teams. The last game I played was against Boston and they had a pretty full lineup. Especially in their barn, it was a good atmosphere. From what I’ve heard, the Verizon Center will be good tonight. I’m really excited about my first game there.”
Tonight will be Oleksy’s 31st game in the NHL. As mentioned earlier, he will be playing with his third partner in as many games tonight, and for the third time in as many games he will be playing alongside a less experienced partner.
“I feel I can help Nate a little bit,” notes Oleksy, “being around for five years in pro hockey now. But at the end of the day, it’s still the same game no matter what level you play. He’s a guy with a good head on his shoulders, and that’s huge. He’s obviously ready and he’s proven he’s ready. I’m really excited for him and there’s no doubt he’s going to do well.”
Schmidt’s family will be in the District tonight to catch his debut. Parents Tom and Joanne and brother Mike are flying in from Minnesota and sister Emily is coming from Arizona where she was given a brief furlough from medical school to be on hand for her brother’s NHL debut.