St. Cloud, MN- They were at different points in their college hockey careers but for the time being both are at the same starting line. St. Cloud State University hockey senior, Jimmy Schuldt and sophomore Blake Lizotte both signed entry level deals with the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the Los Angeles Kings respectively this week to commence their professional careers.
The undrafted Schuldt who was a highly coveted free agent following the 2017-18 season opted to return to a talent-laden SCSU squad in 2018-19 to complete his collegiate eligibility. The three-time captain led the team to a highly successful season capturing the regular season Penrose Cup Championship by 19 points over second-place UMD, went undefeated on home ice and was ranked #1 for 15 weeks. However, they fell short in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff Championship in double overtime to UMD and the following weekend were upset by American International College 2-1 in the NCAA West Regional. Schuldt, however, was showered with awards including NCHC Player of the Year, NCHC Defensive Defenseman of the Year, NCHC All-First Team and to top things off NCHC Scholar Athlete. A beloved player by the SCSU fan base, he never missed a game in a career that included 38 goals and 80 assists for 118 points in 156 games – a SCSU record for defensemen. On April 4th, he was named a 2019 Hobey Hat Trick Finalist (final three).An award given to the top collegiate hockey player.
Schuldt, who had to review quite a few offers from NHL teams was looking for the best opportunity for a left defenseman. He ultimately decided the Las Vegas Golden Knights as his team of choice. Schuldt told vegasgoldenknights.com “I took about a day and a half with my friends back at St. Cloud before making any decisions. I’m looking for an opportunity to prove myself, but I was really looking for the right fit for me as a player and as a person. I want to show what I’ve got with this opportunity. I want to get the experience of actually being in the NHL and spending time as a team.” Schuldt had previously skated in the Golden Knights Development camp in June which helped make his decision easier. “I thought it was so great to meet so many people when I was there,” Schuldt said. “The facilities are incredible, but the biggest thing for me was meeting the people that I was going to be around. That’s one of the biggest things going for the organization. Being able to sit down with everyone and talk to them face-to-face is a sign of a great organization.”
It was reported Schuldt signed a one-year Entry Level Contract (ELC) on April 3rd. These contracts are age-based and thus Schuldt was only required to enter into a one-year contract that calls for a standard $92,500 signing bonus and a base salary of $832,500. No performance bonuses were reported. The ELC’s are two-way contracts meaning if the player is assigned to the American Hockey League the maximum salary would be $70,000.
The contract will automatically burn once he plays a game for Vegas or their AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolve which he has done. Schuldt will become a restricted free agent this offseason, which means he will be under the Golden Knights control and won’t be allowed to sign on with any other team as long as he receives his qualifying offer from the NHL’s newest franchise.
Per the NHL CBA Schuldt is not eligible for the NHL Playoffs this season.
Lizotte’s signing was a surprise mainly from the standpoint that he had just completed his sophomore year and was undrafted. However, his trajectory as a player catapulted greatly considering just 4 seasons ago he was competing in the North American Hockey League for Minot. But, he made an impact immediately at the Collegiate level earning NCHC All-Rookie Team honors in 2017-18 and NCHC All-First Team in 2018-19. Suddenly, he was a hot commodity after scouts saw him play in the NCHC’s Frozen Faceoff. And, with the continuing escalation of NHL contracts, the “effort to find potentially effective players at lower prices will be to invest in the NCAA” and players like Lizotte. Lizotte finished his career at SCSU with 22 goals and 47 assists for 69 points (+44) in 76 games and would have been a legitimate threat to hit 200 points would he have stayed for two more years. His mother Lisa told me “He absolutely loves St. Cloud and it broke his heart to even think of leaving but after all considerations and looking at offers it led to LA. It’s an amazing opportunity to live his dream”
Lizotte told the LA Kings Insider “Obviously I’ve been thinking about that for 20 years now. Since I was about two years old, I was on my back pond in the back of my house in Minnesota scoring the game-winner of the Stanley Cup Final in the NHL and dreaming about that debut, and actually I used to play the national anthem in my living room – playing floor hockey I’d stand there and just dream about it – so I’m definitely looking forward to it.My whole family just lives, breathes, eats, sleeps hockey, so it’s exciting.”
About the loss to AIC in the NCAA West Regional he said “It’s still pretty fresh in my mind. My heart’s always going to ache for that season and that game, and it probably never will stop. It’s obviously a super disappointing ending, and I loved my time at St. Cloud State University. I have nothing but good things to say there. That’s the best two years of my life, but like I said earlier, it’s been a childhood dream, and I felt it was a good opportunity and a good time, so I felt I had to take it.”
Former SCSU player, Brooks Bertsch who is now with the Kings organization was instrumental in the efforts to sign Lizotte who was being recruited by quite a few other NHL teams. “This isn’t just a depth guy that’s an energy guy. He has the ability to make plays, he has the ability to create offense. I think he can play up and down your lineup anywhere. If he’s not on the scoresheet, he can still impact a game,” Bertsch said.
Lizotte’s ELC signing age is 21 requiring a three-year Entry Level Contract. The full value of the contract was reported at $4,475,000 including the standard $92, 500 signing bonus and base salary of $832,500. It also appears to include Type A performance bonuses for years two and three of the contract at $850,000 maximum per year. This would be bonuses for such things as goals, ice-time, plus-minus etc. while at the NHL level. Again, this would be a two-way contract with a maximum salary at the American Hockey League level of $70,000.
The LA Kings have been heavy on signing former SCSU players including Jonny Brodzinski, Kevin Gravel, Nic Dowd, Mikey Eyssimont and now Blake Lizotte. Current SCSU goaltender David Hrenak is a LA Kings draft choice.
Both Schuldt and Lizotte could make their debut on the same sheet of ice when the LA Kings face the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the final game of the regular season on Saturday, April 6th in Los Angeles.