Roman Schmidt says he can’t remember much time when he wasn’t on the ice.
The Lightning’s first pick in this year’s draft Saturday was seemingly meant to be on skates. Both his parents were figure skaters, so as a kid he split time between hockey and figure skating until he grew out of the latter around age 9.
“My dad actually had a conversation with my mom around that time,” Schmidt said. “He just said to my mom, ‘He just doesn’t look like a figure skater. He’s too lengthy, he’s too tall.’ Usually, figure skaters are a little smaller, a little slicker. They have to do a lot of jumps and be really good on their edges and stuff.”
Hockey has worked out well for the 18-year-old native of Midland, Mich., who has grown into a 6-foot-6, 209-pound right-shot defenseman that the Lightning selected with the final pick of the third round, 96th overall.
“Roman’s one of those guys that we say makes the all-warmup team,” said Lightning assistant general manager and director of amateur scouting Al Murray. “Because as soon as he steps on the ice, everybody takes a look and they see a great big guy wheeling around, and they go ‘Holy mackerel, who’s this guy?’ "
Schmidt’s reach, puck-moving ability, strong positional sense and willingness to finish his checks reminds Murray of Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo. But Schmidt has grown to admire another supersized defenseman over the past few seasons: the Lightning’s Victor Hedman.
“I love watching him play,” Schmidt said. “He’s so good with the puck, so good at both ends of the ice. And being a bigger guy like Victor, I try to emulate as much of my game to his. Obviously, he’s the best defenseman in the league, so he’s definitely one of my idols. I’ve looked up to him for a long time, and it’s quite surreal, actually, now being part of the same organization as him.”
Schmidt is regarded as more of a stay-at-home defenseman. But he said he hopes that his decision to play juniors with Kitchener in the Ontario League rather than college hockey at Boston University will help him develop his offensive game and that the league’s schedule will better prepare him for the rigors of NHL life.
Schmidt not going to college also will allow the Lightning to have him work with their skating and conditioning and strength people, Murray said. The organization will get an up-close look at its top pick at its prospects tournament in September.
Schmidt’s mother, Elizaveta Stekolnikova, a two-time Olympic ice dancer from Kazakhstan, and his father, Derek, coached figure skating in Michigan. They moved to Derek’s hometown, Ottawa, where Roman’s passion for hockey deepened while watching Senators games with his dad.
Most recently, he played for the U.S. National Team Developmental Program in the junior U.S. Hockey League, compiling three goals and 11 assists in 45 games. He also played for the national under-18 team.
Schmidt was ranked the 58th-best prospect among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, the 65th-best prospect by Canada’s TSN network and 85th by the Hockey News.
Schmidt said his background in figure skating helped him learn to use his edges for turning, stopping and accelerating.
But that’s not all there is to like about his game.
“I like how he’s able to get his shot off,” said Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois. “I like his skating mobility for a big man. It’s very impressive. He’s got the reach. You can’t teach size.”
Times sports multimedia producer Rachel West contributed to this story.
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