Some NHL franchises have thrived on signing college free agents. The Philadelphia Flyers have one in Calder Trophy candidate Matt Read. The Toronto Maple Leafs struck gold with Tyler Bozak, like the Tampa Bay Lightning did with Marty St. Louis.
The Washington Capitals have not had a lot of success going down that road and have not tried much lately. They did well with Jeff Halpern and Jay Beagle, and hope to again with the signing of Miami (Ohio) defenseman Cameron Schilling.
“Yeah I had some other teams [interested]. I thought that the Capitals were just the best fit for me, nothing against any other teams,” Schilling said in a phone interview. “I went through a long process to sign. … [This was the] best opportunity for me.”
Schilling, 23, said the Caps have “been around me during this entire process,” so this is no fluke signing. It’s a a two-year, entry-level deal that officially begins next season, but he’ll report to the Hershey Bears this week on a tryout agreement.
He leaves at around 11 a.m. Wednesday to fly to Central Pennsylvania.
“Obviously the pro game is a little different than college hockey,” Schilling said. “Mainly I kind of want to get the experience of that pro life and the pro game, kind of try to take it all in and try to get experience coming into a contract next year.”
General manager George McPhee said in a press release that Schilling “was a highly sought-after college free agent” and “he will be a solid pro for many years.”
The 6-foot-2, 197-pound defenseman had one goal and 13 assists and a plus-13 rating in 39 games for the RedHawks this season.
“Obviously I’m not a very high point-getter on the offensive side. I have good skating ability. I feel like I can use my speed a lot. I’ve got a good shot,” he said. “I’m not an extremely offensive defenseman, but I try to stay defensively minded first and then contribute offensively after that.”
Schilling spent four years at Miami waiting for this chance.
“It’s a dream come true to be able to sign an NHL contract. I couldn’t ask for more,” he said. “It’s even more exciting that it’s with the Capitals.”
George McPhee hesitated to compare Schilling to any current NHL players but was complimentary.
“He feels like a good solid pro. A real mature kid, mature player. Probably [a] shutdown D, but he’s got good wheels,” the Caps’ GM said. “He gaps up quick, he retrieves pucks quick, gets to people quick. He’s got some stiffness to him; he plays with some bite.”
Schilling was a teammate of current Caps defenseman John Carlson with the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League in 2007-08. He said he was good friends with Carlson when they played together and keeps in touch with him even now.
They spoke recently, but not about signing with Washington.
“John’s more of a friend than anything. He’s not going to try to persuade me,” Schilling said. “He was just always there if I had any questions or anything. Ultimately it was completely my decision. I felt like it was the right fit for me.”