The New Jersey Devils’ reassignment for goaltender Akira Schmid is not going as planned.
A lot of things haven’t gone right for the Devils this season. At the forefront of that is undoubtedly the Devils’ goaltending which owns an NHL second-worst .881 SV% to date. Schmid became the odd man out in New Jersey once the Devils recalled Nico Daws. The Devils reassigned Schmid to their American Hockey League affiliate, Utica Comets, about a month ago. They wanted the 23-year-old Swiss goaltender to mentally reset at the lower level and get as much work in to improve his game as possible.
“Just go play,” head coach Lindy Ruff explained in December. “Go play more games, get in a rhythm, get playing. We think a lot of Akira, we know what he’s done for us. We haven’t played as well as we’ve needed to play in front of our goalies, although our goalies can give us more saves at times. But we haven’t been as good a team in front of our goaltenders either. So, it’s kind of a two-way street.”
Well, here’s the thing. The Comets haven’t played all that well either. They’re in last place in their division and sit 25th in the AHL standings out of 32 teams. Only the ECHL Adirondack Thunder are thriving in 2023-24 in terms of the Devils’ pipeline, sitting in second place in their conference.
As a result of the Comets’ poor play, Schmid appears to be struggling just as equally as he was at the NHL level.
In 10 games since being reassigned, Schmid owns a 3-3-4 record with a 3.39 GAA and .891 SV%. That’s not too different from his NHL numbers this season which read 5-7-1 with a 3.26 GAA and .893 SV%.
Things didn’t start well for Schmid and the Comets. In his first AHL start in 2023-24, Schmid was roughed up for five goals against, four at even-strength. Since then, Schmid has allowed three or more goals per game seven times in the following nine starts. In total, Schmid’s given up five goals three times, four goals twice, and three goals thrice while in Utica.
NO TIME, NO PROBLEM pic.twitter.com/7y7bSVjVsn
— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) January 15, 2024
According to AHLTracker, Schmid ranks 78th out of 111 AHL goaltenders this season with a 0.23 game score per game which suggests Schmid just hasn’t been very good individually. Unfortunately, it’s not just the team in front of him, Schmid is contributing to the struggle.
Ben Birnell of the Daily Sentinel is the boots on the ground in Utica. He chimed in on Schmid’s development at the AHL level, including a recent encouraging start by the Swiss goaltender.
“I’d start by saying that Schmid’s outing Saturday [vs. the Syracuse Crunch] was arguably his best during his stint with Utica,” Birnell explained to New Jersey Hockey Now. “He wasn’t overly busy, but made some key stops in the first two periods to help keep it 1-0 and had a couple more in the third, especially when the Comets had a 2-1 lead and had to kill a penalty. The one goal allowed came on a puck that had some funky movement on it following an impressive release. He got a piece of it. [The Puck] hit the post and went in. I think helps that the team seemed to be playing with a bit more confidence, which carried over from Friday’s win over Rochester (Schmid didn’t play that game). It is certainly something to build on for him as he goes forward.”
But what has a bad game for Schmid looked like?
“I’d say Saturday was a bounce-back outing for him from Wednesday’s loss at Laval when Utica went into the third period with a lead and then gave up 3 goals in 6 minutes — and 2 in 10 seconds — to take the loss,” Birnell continued. “The go-ahead goal in Wednesday’s game was a high-rising shot through a sort of screen off the rush. And then the goal 10 seconds later was a bouncing puck that seemed to handcuff him a little bit.”
An all too familiar feeling.
Schmid’s 2023-24 has been just as discouraging as the Devils’ season. At one point, he was outdueling Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin to help bounce the New York Rangers from the playoffs. Now, he’s struggling to find consistency in his game. It’s true that he’s on a struggling minor-league team. However, Schmid still has plenty to work on before he makes his way back to the NHL.
“The argument can also be made that the Comets defense overall has its share of miscues throughout the season, though I think the same could be said about the Devils,” Brunell concluded. “Certainly doesn’t help, especially for a goalie who has stated he wants to find his game. I think his rebound control is something that can continue to improve.”