Nick Schmaltz showed the Arizona Coyotes what he could do in a handful of games last season before sustaining a season-ending lower-body injury in late December.
Now the 23-year-old forward, who the Coyotes acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 25, 2018, for forwards Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini, is healthy heading into the first season of a seven-year contract he signed in March and said he isn't overwhelmed by the expectations that come with it.
"I mean, obviously you try not to put too much pressure on yourself," Schmaltz said in July. "But when you're getting paid like one of the higher paid players on the team, you have to perform, and you have to make sure that you're all in on it and you can prove to your teammates and coaches and management that you're deserving of that. That's what I'm going to try and do is try to be a leader on the ice and play as hard as I can every night. Hopefully the production is there and I can be a big player for the team."
[RELATED: 31 in 31: Coyotes season preview | 31 in 31: Coyotes three questions]
Schmaltz made an immediate impact for the Coyotes following the trade, getting 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 17 games before injuring his knee against the Vegas Golden Knights on Dec. 30.
"It was just was nagging me and I thought I'd take a look, and we saw a little bit of a tear in my meniscus," said Schmaltz, who had surgery in January. "So I figured it was better to get it done then than try to battle it for the rest of the year and have to rehab all summer and not get a full summer of training. So I think it was the right thing to do."
Video: Johnson on Kessel, Coyotes' need to stay healthy
Coyotes forward Vinnie Hinostroza, who was also Schmaltz's teammate with the Blackhawks from 2016-18, wasn't surprised that Schmaltz got off to a quick start in Arizona.
"I think you saw spurts of it here [in Chicago], but when he came down there I think they just told him, 'Go play, do your thing and have fun with it,'" Hinostroza said. "It's unfortunate he got that knee injury, but we have a great staff down there, our trainers and everything. He's stronger than ever, and it's going to be huge having him healthy next year."
Schmaltz has been working out in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, where incorporating preventative maintenance has been a big part of his summer training after missing so much time last season.
"I don't want to go through the same thing I went through this year, so I'm just doing some injury prevention stuff, strengthening the muscles around the knee and whatever it may be," Schmaltz said. "I'm just making sure I'm coming in feeling healthy and feeling 100 percent so I can maintain that throughout the year and not have to sit and watch again.
"It's just maintaining that strength throughout the season and making sure you're staying mobile and doing a lot of flexibility work, staying as loose as you can throughout the year because you're always getting banged up."
Video: 31 in 31: Arizona Coyotes 2019-20 season preview
Schmaltz said he has been skating for about two months and is "pretty close to feeling back to normal." As a result, he's optimistic about the upcoming season for the Coyotes, who finished four points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference last season.
Add in the offseason moves Arizona made, including acquiring forward Phil Kessel, who had 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists) in 82 games last season, in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins on July 1 for forward Alex Galchenyuk, and Schmaltz believes the Coyotes are on their way up.
"It's a great spot and you can see our general manager (John Chayka) and everyone, we're moving in the right direction," Schmaltz said. "We have a lot of young guys and we just made some pretty big moves in the offseason. … Hopefully we can build off last year."