Nick Schneider has had a very interesting 2015.
The product of Leduc, Alberta polished off a fairly solid 2014-15 campaign as back-up to Marek Langhamer with the Medicine Hat Tigers. His numbers were pretty solid during his first full Western Hockey League season and he was ranked 9th among North American goaltenders by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service – all while spending the entire season as a 17-year-old. In June, he went unclaimed in the NHL Draft. In July, he turned 18. In September, he attended Calgary Flames prospect camp in Penticton and got an invite to training camp initially as an extra body to ensure practices had the right ratios – college players typically play the same role in the team’s summer development camp.
But injuries and some strong play in scrimmages kept Schneider around and he impressed enough to earn himself an entry-level NHL contract from the Flames – which served the team’s interests well, as the three picks they traded for Dougie Hamilton made it hard to grab a depth goaltender at the draft.
We had the chance to catch up with Schneider following Medicine Hat’s 7-5 win over the Calgary Hitmen in his first game action in Calgary since signing with the organization. (He made 25 saves in relief to pick up his seventh win of the season.)
Schneider spent last season learning from Czech import Marek Langhamer, who signed a deal with the Arizona Coyotes and graduated this season to the ECHL’s Rapid City Rush. Initially Schneider was going to be the understudy to 19-year-old Evan Johnson. But Johnson struggled and the Tigers jumped at the chance to get their hands on overager Austin Lotz, who was the odd man out in Everett. Unfortunately, Lotz had a shoulder injury and the Tigers brought in another overager, former Hitmen netminder Mack Shields, to mentor Schneider rather than thrust him into the starting job right away.
“It was more like you have some help back there,” clarified Schneider in regards to the Tigers bringing in a veteran to tandem with him (twice). “We had a tough time at the start of the year. And it also gave me some more time to work on some things that I need to work on to get some better results. So it was good all around and as a team we’re playing a lot better than we were at the start of the year and so we’re getting some more wins.”
Schneider was arguably the big surprise story of Flames training camp. With Jon Gillies on the shelf with a concussion, Schneider stuck around longer than anybody thought and with some other Flames vets missing time in camp, he managed to get enough looks in front of Flames management that they offered him a contract. The whole process was a bit of a whirlwind for him, with him referring to the entire experience at camp as a “childhood dream.”
“I kind of stuck around with all the injuries,” recalled Schneider. “My agent called me a couple days before, just said they had some discussions about [a contract]. And then I really didn’t hear anything until that day. I got off the ice and then my agent called me three times and I found out they worked out a deal. So that was really nice.”
Shields is already 20 and he’ll age out of the WHL after this season. Schneider turns 19 after this season, so he’ll be in the WHL for at least the 2016-17 season (and he can return to the Dub as an overager in 2017-18, though his NHL deal will begin to run at that point). That means the extremely young Schneider has a lot of time to soak up knowledge and gain experience with the Tigers and grow into the starting role rather than be thrown right into it as a raw 18-year-old. The Flames signing him to an entry-level deal is a pretty big commitment for an unknown, undrafted prospect, but he’s shown in flashes between the Penticton tournament and through his time in the WHL that perhaps he could develop into a strong netminder given some time.
Case in point? He was really good on Saturday against the Hitmen.