When the 2018-19 season came to its end for the Vegas Golden Knights on April 23, the sting of playoff elimination lingered with the team in the following days.
The players cleaned out their lockers and held their final media availability of the season two days later and smiles were not in abundance. Nate Schmidt was an exception. Despite the team's first-round exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Schmidt showed his knack for finding a reason to smile in the somber offseason air.
"I love this group," Schmidt said. "I think we have an awesome group in here. This team can win, I have no doubt about it."
While Schmidt's spirit can lift the Golden Knights' locker room, his positivity was missed during the first 20 games of the season. Schmidt was suspended for testing positive for a banned substance before training camp and was forced to miss the first quarter of the season. The Golden Knights organization supported Schmidt during his suspension and, while Schmidt was overseas training with the Vienna Capitals in Austria, the team proved its commitment to their minute-munching defenseman in the form of a six-year extension worth $35.7 million.
On Dec. 4, Schmidt faced his former club, the Washington Capitals, in a rematch of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. With the score tied late in the third period, Schmidt took matters into his own hands as he netted the game-winning goal with less than two minutes to play.
Video: Nate Schmidt Goal Calls
That goal was Schmidt's first of nine goals on the season as he established a new career-high in goal scoring. In just 61 games, he notched 30 points (9G, 21A) and maintained a +22 rating. Vegas had a record of 15-3-4 when Schmidt recorded a point during the regular season and went 3-0 during the playoffs when Schmidt was on the scoresheet.
With his seventh NHL season behind him, Schmidt said he's recognized how quickly a professional hockey career can go by and he's trying to enjoy each day with the Golden Knights as it comes.
"I was talking to Shea [Theodore] about it and that one thing that stinks is how fast our careers go," Schmidt said. "I am in my seventh year... Things fly and it is crazy how fast things go. I love being around this group."
As he looks ahead to the potential of bringing a Stanley Cup to Vegas in 2019-20, Schmidt wants his contributions on and off the ice to reach new levels.
"The guys that I looked up to when I first came into the league, were the guys that did the right things in the right way in the way they carry themselves," Schmidt said. "It is being professional and a lot of ways it is how you carry yourself and how you prepare. Other guys see that. As a young player, I remember watching other guys and looking around and saying that's how you do it, that's how it is done. That is a type of leadership. Leadership is not something that is just given, it is earned from your teammates. Your teammates are the ones that look up to you or look to you in a situation. It is growing as a group, as a player and as a person."