Cameron Schilling likes to play it safe. He bought clothes with his first paycheck from the Washington Capitals, and he drives a used Audi.
“I’m an accounting major, so I’m just trying to be smart with my money here,” he said.
On the ice, the 23-year-old defenseman is the same way. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes or take a lot of risks. Hershey coach Mark French even compared him to Karl Alzner.
Another player of that caliber would suit the Capitals well next season and beyond, even though Schilling was just signed as an undrafted college free agent out of Miami (Ohio) this past fall. Unsolicited, general manager George McPhee singled out Schilling as someone who could help at the NHL level right away.
“Obviously, any time I get the opportunity to try to come up and play in Washington would be amazing. I had a little time there in Hershey [AHL], and I hope that gave me a little bit opportunity to come into camp and fight for a spot but nothing is guaranteed,” Schilling said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen from here to camp, and you don’t know what the spots are going to look like, so I’m just going to come out here and work as hard as I can and try everything I can to try and make the team.”
Schilling could face a logjam in that pursuit. The Caps already have seven defensemen on one-way NHL deals, plus blue-chip prospect Dmitry Orlov, whom McPhee said should be able to take on a bigger load in replacing Dennis Wideman.
Considering Alzner, John Carlson, Mike Green and Roman Hamrlik as the top four defensemen, that means Orlov, John Erskine, Jeff Schultz and recently signed Jack Hillen already are competing for just two spots in the lineup.
Schilling said he’s not getting caught up in the numbers game, given how quickly the landscape can change. And while he’s clearly more polished than most of the prospects at this week’s development camp, the big challenge is still to come.
“Training camp will be the good yardstick to see how he’s doing there,” director of amateur scouting Ross Mahoney said. “It’s up to Cameron to come in and prove himself and show the coaches why he deserves a spot on the team.”
There was a concern about the adjustment from college to the AHL, especially doing so late in the season. Signed March 27, he wasted little time making an impact.
“I think the biggest compliment you can give any player is ice time, and when he came to us from Miami of Ohio, first game I think he played 24 minutes, which was top on our D corps, top in the game with both teams,” French said. “So we had a comfort level with him right away. He had the ability to transition from college to the pro game really quick. I think he’s got a very high hockey IQ. He’s very efficient in his game.”
He became a top-pair defenseman in Hershey on his merits, and French said he earned the increased playing time.
In just a few months in the Caps organization, Schilling already has exceeded expectations.
“Moving into the playoffs, we thought there might be a transition when the intensity picked up, but he just got better with more games,” French said. “I think he carried some momentum through from confidence in college, but he was able to carry that through to his pro experience in Hershey.”
One more year of seasoning in the minors could benefit Schilling’s development, French said, but lessons learned at Hershey would help if he is promoted to the Caps next season.
“I just took whatever they gave me and tried to make the best out of it, tried to play to my potential night in and night out,” Schilling said. “Obviously, the minutes are great, but the bottom line, you’ve got to perform out there.”
NOTE: The Capitals signed left wing Wojtek Wolski on Wednesday to one-year deal worth $600,000. Wolski tallied 12 points in 31 games between the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers last season.