Ask St. Cloud State University's Jimmy Schuldt about being tied for the NCAA Division I men's hockey lead in points-per-game and he will shrug and tell you how little points mean to him.

Ask him how well the No. 2-ranked Huskies are playing to start the season, he will point out that the team is a long way from where they want to go.

So what gets the captain excited? Ask him about his vertical leap test before official practices started this fall.

"This was the first time I was above 30 inches before a season starts," Schuldt said. "About the middle of the season, I think I've been at about 31 and you want to have your best (height) during the season because that's when you're the most explosive."

Huskies coach Bob Motzko has become a big proponent of the vertical leap as a gauge for players, though he says he does not have a lot of science to back him up.

"That's the magic threshold that we've seen with guys coming through our program," Motzko said of a vertical leap of 30 or more inches before the season. "When those vertical jumps hit 30 in the upperclass years, it's amazing how their careers take off.

"I can't put any correlation to it other than I just keep seeing it happen."

So how does a hockey player work on his vertical jump and why is it important? Schuldt said he worked on a lot of lower body weight lifting, running and jumping off ice during the summer.

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The idea behind it is that a player can't improve a vertical leap without having better explosiveness in your legs. If a player's explosiveness off the ice is improved, their starts and ability to burst faster as a skater will increase.

Schuldt has used his strong offseason to get off to the most productive offensive season of his college career. The junior from Minnetonka is tied for the team lead in goals (4) and assists (6) and leads the team with 10 points through five games.

St. Cloud State (5-0-0) opens NCHC play with a series against eighth-ranked Minnesota-Duluth (4-2-2) this weekend at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The teams play at 7:37 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday.

Leads in +/-, blocks

Schuldt's strong start also includes leading the team in plus/minus (number of even-strength goals on the ice for minus the number against). Schuldt is a plus-8, which also is tied for the national lead.

All of the numbers helped Schuldt to the Hockey Commissioners' Association National Division I Player of the Month title for October.

"I think I've been pretty good. In my game, I've never let points define how I'm playing," he said. "I can be playing fantastic and have no points. I can be playing sub-par, make a breakout pass and get a point.

"A number that would better define things for me would be plus/minus," he said. "If I have a good plus/minus, I'm doing something right. I want to keep that number high and keep blocking shots."

Yeah, not surprisingly, Schuldt also leads the team in blocked shots with 12. He has led St. Cloud State in blocked shots as a sophomore (88 in 36 games) and as a freshman (95 in 41 games). Last season, he had 46 more blocked shots than any of his teammates.

The courage it takes to block shots, being a physical presence, working on his game throughout a day and a 3.74 grade-point average are indicators as to why Schuldt was a rarity last season: a sophomore who is a captain.

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"I always walk through (the arena) on Monday and Wednesday mornings to class and Jim's always in the (player's) lounge either eating or doing homework or he's on the ice," said Peterson, the team's other captain this season. "He's a tremendous leader who works hard and he's been that since Day 1.

"He's one of the few guys in here who will speak up and speak his mind and kind of get after the team ... in a good way. He's a natural-born leader."

Motzko said that when he got to the arena Wednesday morning, he could hear someone shooting pucks on the ice. It was not a big surprise who it was.

"I come in here and someone is just pounding pucks and I can hear them off the boards and the glass," Motzko said. "I walk around to see who it was and it was the captain (Schuldt).

"He's out there with our freshman goalie (David Hrenak), working on his game."

NHL interest

Schuldt was one of the top free agent upperclassmen in the country going into the season. A 2013 Minnetonka graduate, he was not drafted by an NHL team and spent two full seasons playing junior hockey with the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League.

While his offensive numbers may be getting him more interest from casual fans, NHL scouts are looking at his overall game. When he's not blasting pucks on net or making good passes, he is a physical defenseman whose very presence in an area can change how an opponent approaches the St. Cloud State zone.

"Any time you have to battle him in front of the net, it's not fun," Peterson said of the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Schuldt. "I don't know what he does (physically), but he kind of whips his shoulder into somebody.

"The first time I saw him (bounce a player into the boards) last season was against Mankato and he absolutely crushed a guy," Peterson said with a laugh. "I told myself that I'm never going to go down the wall against him again."

While he has not been drafted, he has spent each of the last two summers in NHL development camps. Schuldt went to camps with both the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Islanders after his freshman season.

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Last summer, he was one of four St. Cloud State players to take part in the camp for the Montreal Canadiens. Though Schuldt was mostly known as a teammate of Ryan Poehling, a first-round draft pick of the Canadiens who is a sophomore for the Huskies.

"It was the Ryan Poehling show in Montreal," Schuldt said with a laugh. "Everyone wants to know about him and what he's all about.

"Any time I was interviewed it was, 'What's Ryan Poehling like? Is he going to be a first-line center for you this season?'"

If Schuldt continues with his strong season, the likelihood of him returning for his senior season with the Huskies becomes less likely. But Schuldt is talking about how he will have a lighter class load next season as he works to complete his degree in finance.

"Everyone is always talking about how college is the best four years of your life and I agree with that statement with my experience here," he said. "School is really important and getting the benefit of a college education with playing a Division I sport is pretty incredible.

"Hockey is my passion. But school is incredibly important and something you can use after you leave. I hate to think about that day," he said.

This article is written by Mick Hatten from St. Cloud Times, Minn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.