Even before the New Jersey Devils started their 2022-23 season, it was apparent they planned to roll a Mackenzie Blackwood/Vitek Vanecek goaltending combination. The team went out and acquired Vanecek from Washington while bringing back Blackwood and expecting a bounce back year. This would also mean that the team could keep their two young prospects, Akira Schmid and Nico Daws, down in Utica. Both could refine their games in the AHL without having to be tossed into NHL action by necessity as Daws was last season. Even if injuries struck, the Devils looked to have Jonathan Bernier working his way back from injury; surely he would be ready in time if either Blackwood or Vanecek went down.
Okay, so maybe the Hockey Gods are just wanting to keep the running gag alive, but the best laid plan to keep both Schmid and Daws in Utica obviously didn’t happen. Bernier has remained unavailable to the team, while Blackwood unfortunately suffered an MCL injury against the Edmonton Oilers. While Vanecek was still available, obviously the Devils needed at least one more goalie on the roster.
I don’t think any of us expected Schmid to be more than a stopgap until Blackwood was healed up from his injury. With a recovery timeline of 3-6 weeks, the Devils seemingly would lean on Vanecek, and use Schmid in some contests where he could post average to good stats and have a chance to win. Pretty standard stuff for a prospect goalie getting called up to serve a backup stint.
And then Vanecek had to leave against the Ottawa Senators...
So Schmid has to come in cold in the middle of a tied game in the third period against the Ottawa Senators. He looked good in the third period, but then the Sens got a power play in overtime. With the expectation of a let down coming, Schmid rose to the occasion and robbed Ottawa on MULTIPLE occasions. He secured his first NHL win in that relief appearance, and followed it up with his first start for a win two nights later.
Schmid in all three of his appearnces this season, has played very well for a prospect; he has played only nine NHL games across this season and last, but he has looked much more confident this season. His positioning and play, along with his overall save percentage (we’ll ignore the individual one from that Arizona game) have inspired confidence that the Devils have a chance to win no matter which goalie they roll with on any given night. And therein lies the problem. Right now the Devils have a tandem that the fans and the team are comfortable with. So what do they do when Blackwood is ready to come back?
Unless the team wants to carry three goalies (and they could with Tyler Wotherspoon as their only healthy scratch right now) Schmid will be sent back to Utica once Blackwood is fully recovered. In terms of roster management, waivers, and getting everyone some playign time, this is the sensible thing to do. However, the question remains as to if the team would be better off with a Vanecek/Schmid duo than they would Vanecek/Blackwood.
Anyone who has followed this site for a while knows that I’ve been a big believer in giving Blackwood multiple chances. Unless he comes roaring back in a big way from this most recent injury however, I’m starting to wonder if it would be best for him and the team to make this their last season together. Blackwood is just consistently having the same struggles when in games, and he’s also had some bad injury luck. He might be best served with a fresh start elsewhere in the league, which in turn could mean a bigger role for Schmid.
Now I’m also not sitting here annointing Schmid the next coming of Martin Brodeur; he’s still very young and has very few NHL games under his belt. But that brings us back to the topic of this piece and that’s what do the Devils do if he keeps up this high level of play? We’ve heard nothing of Blackwood’s return being imminent, and the team can’t just play Vanecek every game until Mackenzie is healthy. Schmid will get at least one more game, maybe as soon as tonight with it being the front end of a back to back. If he keeps playing well, does the thought creep in of how to keep him up with the NHL club? Do the Devils try to carry three goalies for a bit to make sure everyone is healthy? Are there other options that start being discussed?
Perhaps this leap in logic is too far for a goalie who has only had to stop 48 pucks to achieve his current .941 save percentage this season. Maybe sending him back to the AHL for more seasoning and eventual long-term success is the correct move for his development track. Still, the Devils have been winning, and when the team is winning and looking legitimate, you want your best 20 players on your bench every night. I think it’s only fair to wonder that if Akira Schmid continues to play as well as he has, is he the second goalie that belongs among those 20?
What are your thoughts on Schmid and his play this season; do you want to see him in more games to get an idea of what the Devils have? If he continues to play well, what do you think the team should do? Do they keep him and run three goalies with the NHL team, do they send him back to Utica or do they explore other options? Leave any and all thoughts below and thanks as always for reading!