Schmidt_WPG

EDINA, Minn. -- It was only four months of an NHL career that will enter a 12th season, but it was enough time for Nate Schmidt to realize how much he enjoyed playing under coach Paul Maurice.

And that experience, with the Winnipeg Jets in 2021-22, was a big reason why the 32-year-old defenseman signed a one-year contract July 3 to play for Maurice again, this time with the Stanley Cup champion Florida Panthers.

“My biggest ups when I was in Winnipeg was when I was under Paul Maurice,” Schmidt said Wednesday at Da Beauty League, a 4-on-4 summer league featuring collegiate and NHL players with ties to Minnesota. “And honestly, I just felt like he was somebody who understood my game and knows how to unlock the most out of his guys. I felt that comfort level, and with Paul and this team, I’m just chasing a ring. That’s all I want. I just want to win. I want to be a part of it, too.”

Schmidt became an unrestricted free agent July 1 after the Jets bought out the final season of a six-year, $35.7 million contract (average annual value $5.95 million) he signed with the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 24, 2018, which preceded trades to the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 12, 2020, and to Winnipeg on July 27, 2021.

That was Maurice's last of nine seasons as Jets coach; he resigned Dec. 17, 2021, saying the Jets "need a new voice," but was hired by Florida on June 22, 2022.

Schmidt, signed by the Washington Capitals as an undrafted free agent June 21, 2017, has 220 points (47 goals, 173 assists) in 661 regular-season games for the Capitals, Golden Knights, Canucks and Jets and 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) in 76 playoff games.

He had 14 points (two goals, 12 assists) in 63 regular-season games for Winnipeg last season, and one goal in three playoff games.

“I’ve been to the (Stanley Cup) Final (with Vegas in 2018, a five-game loss to Washington) and I know how hard it is,” Schmidt said. “But you don’t realize how bad you want it until you’re not close to winning it again.

“I just want to have a chance. That’s all you ever ask for as a young kid. A chance to win the Stanley Cup. And I couldn’t be more grateful to get that in Florida.”

Schmidt knows a roster spot won’t come easy. The Panthers re-signed defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to a four-year contract July 1, and have veteran mainstay Aaron Ekblad, emerging standout Gustav Forsling and up-and-comers Tobias Bjornfot and Matt Kiersted.

“When you go with the champs, the first thing you say is, ‘I got to win that roster spot,’” Schmidt said. “So now, I’ve got to get back into hardware mode of wanting to get into that grind, and that’s what’s been my motivation this summer.”

But there’s no bigger motivation than joining a team entering the season as defending champs. And that’s what has Schmidt most excited.

“I’m joining a team that’s done it, that’s won the Cup,” he said. “I have to step it up. As defending champs, now it’s going to be harder. It’s hard to stay there. But what’s really important about a young group, and a group that has a lot of talent, is trying to have that same type of swagger they had all year.

“They had that swagger that, 'We’re going to outwork you, we’re going to outcompete you.' That’s an awesome mentality to have. If you don’t have it, you can’t manufacture it and that’s what I love it about joining this Florida team.”

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