Top 25 Under 25, #21: Cole Schneider
Checking in at #21 is a prospect that is entering a "do-or-die" year when it comes to him potentially becoming an NHL player, 24 year old Cole Schneider
Now a three-year veteran of the AHL, Cole Schneider has been Mr. Consistent for the Binghamton Senators. Signed after finishing his sophomore year at the University of Connecticut back in March of 2012, Schneider has provided reliable offensive production while showcasing his strong two-way play in all-situations. To me, that sounds like a perfect bottom-six forward, and I'm sure that Schneider's goal coincides with this belief.
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Just because he wasn't drafted doesn't mean that Schneider didn't have a pretty prolific career before turning pro. He played alongside Brandon Saad in his first year in the NAHL before being among the league leaders in goal scoring in only 29 games in his second year. At UConn, who currently plays in the NCAA's Atlantic Division, Schneider was a record-setter in being named to both the AHA All-Rookie Team, First All-Star Team, and becoming the second ever UConn player in the D1 era to sign with an NHL team. Three years after his departure, Schneider still holds the team record for scoring in a single season (45) and is tied for second if you include his rookie year totals (33 points). Obviously these totals caught the eyes of NHL scouts looking for a gem in a weaker division, and Schneider managed to stand out by carrying a weaker team in the conference on his back most nights.
What makes Schneider dangerous? Deceptiveness. He doesn't own "the best" anything, but has really strong offensive zone awareness, and uses this to make shifty passes to his teammates or to change the angle on his release right before firing it while coming down the wing. This can be seen on the BSens powerplay, where Schneider is sometimes used on the half-wall to rotate the puck down to the goal line, or to make quick cross-ice passes to his teammates for a shot.
What about his defensive play, though?
From a wonderful profile by UConn broadcaster, Will Moran:
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.
I highly recommend reading that entire article on Schneider, as it really gives a glowing review of his overall game (talent, character, all-situations play). So, I know what you're thinking, if the reviews on Schneider are this glowing, why hasn't he been given a chance yet? First, we'll quickly touch on things that Schneider needs to improve on.
From Jeff's BSens 4th quarter grades:
Scoring goals is his thing and didn't fail in the last quarter or the season as a whole. Reads the ice well while crashing the crease but slightly slow footed and lacks grit as two things he needs to work on next season that perhaps is holding him back to the next level.
After a 29-goal year, it's nice to see that Schneider is trying to generate offense in any way he can. What may prevent him from being as effective at the NHL level is the speed/agility to create separation from himself and the defenders, and the willingness to battle in the corners for harder pucks if he can't generate off the wing.
Schneider was mentioned as one of the players who wasn't able to get a shot last year in Ottawa due to the streak, but it's still nice to see that he's in the organization's plans, hence re-signing him to a one year, two-way deal this July. Given his age and the prospects behind him on the wing (Nick Paul, Tobias Lindberg, Gabriel Gagne, etc.), it'll be up to Schneider to come out firing to win the prized "first call-up" contest. Though he's listed as a left-wing officially, Schneider can play both sides fairly well. He honestly reminds me of a fan-favourite here in Ottawa, Erik Condra, given his ability to play in all-situations and the solid hockey IQ. As we've all said, Erik Condra with some finish would be great.
AHL Y1 (rank on team)
AHL Y2 (rank on team)
Cole Schneider (b. 1990)
1.04 (75 GP over 2Y)
0.58 PPG (4)
0.78 PPG (3)
0.71 (209 GP over 3Y)
Erik Condra (b. 1986)
0.99 (159 GP over 4Y)
0.48 PPG (8)
0.85 PPG (7)
0.63 (135 GP over 2Y)
Here's a quick comparison of the two players, with stats taken from EliteProspects. Condra, who entered his first AHL year two years older than Schneider, came into a stacked BSens squad that ended up winning the Calder Cup in his second year. Thus, it's important to keep in mind that Condra's Y1/2 AHL totals were impacted by: 1) playing behind really good players (hence his rank numbers) and thus facing weaker competition, 2) reduced ice-time to get powerplay or prime offensive minutes, limiting his production. Schneider, on the other hand, entered the BSens during a time of retooling and has been given prime offensive minutes, generally on the first line, but has to match up against top AHL defenders. Schneider has the slight edge in both NCAA and AHL points-per-game, though it's important to remember that Condra's NCAA conference was more difficult, and that Condra was a leader (17 points in 23 games) during the Calder Cup run.
Despite this, though, it's easy to see the fit, both in terms of production and playing style. With Condra in Tampa Bay this upcoming season, Schneider could be a natural fit at right-wing, and if there's an injury or if players are traded, it'll be interesting to see if he can stick at this level. Obviously, there's a ton of competition from Shane Prince and Matt Puempel for NHL spots on the wing, but just like the rest of his career, Schneider may only have to continue doing what he's always done before - perform.
Thanks for reading!