Editor's Note: This contribution is from Will Moran, a University of Connecticut hockey broadcaster and the host of Goal Mouth Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GoalMouthRadio. Thanks very much to Will for sharing his insight into the newest Ottawa Senators prospect, Cole Schneider.
Since the evening that Cole Schneider signed his two-year, two-way entry-level contract with the Ottawa Senators the scouting reports about him have consisted of only that he has a very, very sad profile picture and was a record-breaking force at the University of Connecticut. Put aside the fact that you were unaware UConn had a hockey team, let alone a player that will be part of the Senators growing NCAA talent pool and we can now examine Cole Schneider at a deeper level.
Cole Schneider is someone a coach loves to have on his hockey team. In practice he was one of the hardest working players on a team full of extremely hardworking guys. It's going to be tough to forget the end of the Atlantic Hockey Association Quarter Finals series when UConn fell to Air Force 4-3 out in Colorado Springs. Schneider sat on the ice, in the high slot just above the tops of the circles in his defensive zone. He had scored two goals that night against the 19th-ranked team in the nation and was sitting on six points in three games against the country's fifth-best defense. He had broken the UConn D1 single-season scoring record in the game before, a huge performance to push the series to a decisive game three. But you know the numbers already, so let's get into what makes him tick.
Fondly known by his teammates as "Schneids," Cole Schneider can play virtually any way that you want him too. In his final year at UConn he played with Jordan Sims, a skilled centerman and great two-way forward, and Brant Harris, a massive right wing power forward with play making ability and a craving to hit anything that moved. This was a formula that worked out great for Schneider. Schneider has an excellent release from the wing and can cut to the middle and pick a goaltender apart. He has an incredible ability to make the goaltender or defender make the first move and then make them pay for making the wrong decision. In space, he is as deadly as it gets. Due to the fact that Harris was able to drive the net so well, Schneider was allotted space to make a decision. He would shoot to score, he could find a late man in space, shoot to create a rebound, another skill which he seemed to develop very quickly, or find a linemate in soft coverage. The hockey IQ on this kid is serious and it makes him all the more dangerous.
The concern at this point would be whether or not Schneider fits with a team that doesn't have the personnel to provide Schneider with that space. But there's another aspect of his game that gets overlooked by many and could qualify as the most important: His play without the puck is excellent and he drives the net hard. His skill around the net and ability to find the puck and the back of the net through extensive traffic is quite impressive. Schneider understands how to find the soft spot in coverage below in the circles and how to lose a defender deep in the offensive zone. He can get a shot off from in tight and can pick a spot through traffic with impressive accuracy.
Schneider also adds to a powerplay. Not a traditional quarterback, but he is able to work the half-wall very well. UConn had a top 5 powerplay unit throughout the entirety of the year and Schneids was a main reason why. His abilities on the man advantage were vast, which gave the powerplay different looks and thus a more deadly effect on opposing teams. First off, Schneider can shift to the top of the circle from the off-wall and be set up for a one timer. His shot from the tops of the circle can be deadly and I swear to you sometimes has eyes. Second, his play from the halfwall itself is brilliant. He gives a threatning shot but his passing ability dissuades opposing penalty killers from attacking him too much. The favorite setup for the UConn team was to give the puck to Schneider on the goal-line and then switch with a teammate to move to the halfwall. The pick created would allow Schneider enough space to give the puck back to the goal line and allow a teammate to attack the goalie or pass across the goalmouth to an uncovered player on the backdoor.
Finally, his defensive play has improved markedly over his time at university. Schneider started his career at UConn without the greatest of defensive ability, and was able to put up big numbers without much defense. Sound familiar Senators fans? If so, don't worry too much, as Schneider actually worked at his defensive game in his sophomore season and was a key penalty killer this past season. There's still work to be done, but his awareness in the D zone is much improved and his aggressiveness on the forecheck cannot be discredited. He has the ability to make reads on defenseman at the points and makes sure he finishes his check on the opposing blueliners no matter what the play. However, when the film shows the opposing team shows a tendency to find a soft spot in the middle of the ice, he now knows that he has to stay home, make his body big and block shots. It's a work in progress as of now, but for a guy who carried his team offensively, he made sure to put the defensive work in as well.
I spoke with Schneider Friday afternoon and asked him who he is going to try to emulate as a pro. He said Ryan Callahan of the New York Rangers. It's a pretty good comparison. Callahan's responsible in his own end, has good speed and a good release, but it's the work ethic that shines through with the Rangers captain. He's not afraid to get his nose dirty and go to the front of the net and find the puck. Schneider brings than kind of toughness. This is a guy who took a slapshot off the side of the neck and still made sure he covered up the puck to stop play. Guts, grit, heart and a will to improve is what Schneider brings to the table. I saw it every game, every practice this year.
He still needs to get bigger, stronger and adjust to the speed of the game at the pro level. But the character of this kid, who assured me he is going to get his degree from UConn at some point, has the potential to make him a real good player in this league. He wants to be in Binghamton as he told me they made him "an offer I couldn't refuse" and that "the organization, all the way from the players to the front office, are a perfect fit for me." He told me the level of interest in him was high and he received offers from multiple teams after the season ended, but the Ottawa organization was the right fit for him. He doesn't know anyone on the team, nor did the past NCAA free agent signings weigh into his decision at all, which means he wants to be there because he feels like he can grow to his fullest in Binghamton. Given the difference between college and the pro level, it's possible that the assets he has as a college player may not translate into success at the pro level. But I'm putting my faith in the kid.
Where do I get my jersey?
Editor's note: Thanks once again to Will for his insight into Schneider. If you want to follow Will on Twitter, check out @GoalMouthRadio.