Report: Blackhawks’ top prospect Schmaltz leaves NCAA, signs entry-level deal

NCAA standout Nick Schmaltz is reportedly ready to leave the University of North Dakota. According to a report, Schmaltz has signed an entry-level deal with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The key to a successful off-season for Chicago GM Stan Bowman is finding cheap, effective talent to keep the Blackhawks as competitive as they have been over the past several seasons in the Central Division. And it seems Bowman has started his summer by bringing in one of the Blackhawks’ top prospects.

The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Hine reported Sunday that 20-year-old center Nick Schmaltz has inked a three-year, entry-level contract with the Blackhawks, choosing to forego a third season at University of North Dakota and instead join the pro ranks. In THN’s Future Watch 2016, a panel of scouts ranked Schmaltz as Chicago’s best prospect, and 26th-best in the league, and his performance in the NCAA makes it clear why.

This past season, Schmaltz appeared in 37 games for the UND Fighting Hawks, scoring 11 goals and 46 points. He was a key part of UND’s top line, alongside Drake Caggiula and Brock Boeser, and Schmaltz scored one goal and four points in four games during UND’s Frozen Four national title victory. That’s not to mention his two-goal, eight-point World Junior Championship performance for Team USA.

Schmaltz joining the NHL ranks — and he’s certain to fight for a spot on the Blackhawks in training camp — would be the perfect way for Chicago to replace Teuvo Teravainen. The 21-year-old up-and-comer was packaged with Bryan Bickell, and Bickell’s $4-million contract, in order for Bowman to get cap relief.

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As Hine points out, the physical similarities are there between Schmaltz and Teravainen, but they also share similar on-ice qualities. Both are reliable two-way players who can play either down the middle or on the wing, and both Schmaltz and Teravainen are talented playmakers. Of course, there is one major difference: Teravainen has a Stanley Cup, has seen 25 games of playoff actoin and has spent the past two campaigns with the Blackhawks. That’s invaluable, but Schmaltz’s opportunity to get some experience of his own is on the horizon.

If Schmaltz is signed, the Blackhawks would have nine forwards under contract. That doesn’t include restricted free agents Dennis Rasmussen and Andrew Shaw, both of whom are appear likely to be brought back.

Where exactly Schmaltz fits into the lineup is hard to say, but his versatility would prove useful. As a center, he could run up the middle of the third line, but he’d also be a potential fit as a winger on any of the top three units. There’s been a hole on the Blackhawks’ top line since the departure of Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Schmaltz may just be a fit alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. That would be quite the duo for Schmaltz to begin his NHL career with.