In the seventh round of the 2011 NHL Draft the Kings selected 17-year old Michael Schumacher out of a junior league in Sweden. When you’re taken that late and from another continent, the reality is most people don’t know who are you.
Yet, only a few weeks later when he arrived in Los Angeles for the team’s annual Development Camp, many in attendance took immediate notice.
At 6-foot-5 you couldn’t miss him. He towered over the majority of kids as he skated onto the ice. Then, he aggressively attacked the net in most of the drills and scrimmages.
He went on to begin his North American hockey career a few months later with the Soo Greyhounds in the OHL. Not surprisingly, it was a season filled with ups and downs, as well as many of the usual challenges coupled with moving to a new country. But, the Soo may have been just the perfect place for him to get started.
“Good guys, good city, good people there. They took care of me and helped me a lot,” said Schumacher. “I played with good players (too), they helped me a lot with (the adjustments). The play here is a little bit different than in Sweden. So, it was good to be surrounded by other people who could help me with that.”
It’s also nice to be wanted.
When the Greyhounds hired Kyle Dubas to be their new GM last summer, one of his first moves was to trade for Schumacher’s rights. Shortly after acquiring him from Owen Sound, the move began paying dividends for the team.
“He returned from Kings’ training camp the night before our opening game on the road in Belleville and with little practice time he went out in the first game and scored,” recalled Dubas. “Michael developed some great comfort and chemistry with his RW Andrew Fritsch (a Phoenix Coyotes draft pick). But, when Andrew sustained a serious injury in October, that’s when you really saw Michael face adversity and struggle for the first time.
“Those moments are when I feel you see the most sheer development and opportunity (for a player) to really improve. Michael needed to work on his play along the boards in the defensive zone – particularly initiating breakouts by picking pucks off the wall or finding passing lanes once he had possession. He also needed to learn the importance of play in the neutral zone, both in terms of maintaining possession, making good passes to his linemates or regrouping, and generating speed to establish the offensive zone with possession and speed.
“As the year went on, he really showed some great development in those areas and finished the season with the second most points amongst first year Import players in the OHL (behind only Radek Faksa – a Dallas Stars first round pick).”
Schumacher’s 26 goals were also second most on the Greyhounds, while his 50 points ranked him fourth in team scoring.
“Offensively, Michael scored the vast majority of his goals from within 10-15 feet of the net,” Dubas explained. “He uses his size, smarts and skills to get into good position and put himself in an area where he uses his reach and frame to gain position and open a passing lane. Nelson Emerson (Player Development Coach) from the Kings was absolutely great in working with Michael, and Michael got continual support and pushing from Mike Futa, Mark Yannetti and Todd Woodcroft (from LA’s scouting department) throughout the season, which was terrific. Because of his effort and commitment, Michael is certainly a better player than when he arrived last August. The reports we’ve been getting from Sweden and LA are that he’s continued to work hard, gain strength and power.”
Dubas went on to say he expects big things from Schumacher in the coming season.
“If you look at the historical progression of Import players in the CHL from Year 1 to year 2 in the WHL, OHL and QMJHL, you generally see players make a good leap in terms of production and consistency.”
Even so, if you study the odds, his dreams of making the NHL may be a long shot.
First off, most scouts feel if you get two NHL players out of a draft class, you’re doing a fine job. Power forwards Andy Andreoff and Michael Mersch look to fit that bill from the Kings 2011 crop – and arguments can even be made for goalie Christopher Gibson as well.
But, some more alarming concerns bubble to the surface when you analyze the Kings draft history past their first few picks.
Since the 2000 NHL Draft, only two forwards or defenseman selected by the team in the seventh round or later has played in the NHL. Conner James, taken in the ninth round back in 2000, suited up for two games with the Kings in 2005-06 and had just 14 more with the Penguins before moving on to Europe. Then, Jordan Nolan played 26 regular season games with the Kings this past season.
And while seven may be a lucky number in Vegas, the same hasn’t been true for names called by LA on draft day. Going all the way back to the origins of the franchise in 1967, only two players taken by the Kings in the seventh round have ever played more than 100 games in the NHL. Christobal Huet (2001 draft) tended goal for 272 NHL games and Robert Lang (1990) skated in 989 games, including his first 147 in LA.
So, yes, history isn’t on Schumacher’s side.
However, that won’t stop guys like Dubas from singing his praises.
Plus, after just a few minutes of seeing him on the ice, it’s hard not to feel like you’re looking at something special.
Schumacher was noted as one of our standouts in last year’s Dev Camp and Rookie Camp, points that then-coach Terry Murray agreed with.
“We’re still pushing him along,” said Emerson, after Schumacher’s second Dev Camp earlier this month. “He’s a big kid with huge range and he has good offense. He likes to control the puck and make plays. But, we need to still continue with his off-ice workouts. We have to get him stronger, leg strength. Being that size, if we can get him to keep working and getting stronger, then he’s going to be a heck of tough guy to handle.”
The message was received loud and clear by the young forward too. When asked what the Kings told him to work on, he said he needed to be “stronger, better on the puck and score a lot of goals like I did last year. Just keep getting better. Lots of practice.”
Hey, Luc Robitaille made it to the Hockey Hall of Fame coming out of the ninth round. So, with a little practice, anything’s possible.