As an NHL rookie, Justin Schultz is already the top defenceman on the Oilers

Jonathan Willis
February 06 2013 11:07AM

Nine games into the 2013 NHL season, no player on the Oilers roster has been trusted to play more minutes than rookie rearguard Justin Schultz’s 23:09 per night.

Schultz leads the Edmonton blue line in ice-time at even-strength (17:45, more than a minute more per game than second-ranked Jeff Petry) and on the power play (4:18, roughly 30 seconds more per game than Ryan Whitney). Schultz is also averaging more than a minute per game on the penalty kill.

That Schultz has emerged as the Oilers’ top offensive option is not surprising – the team’s only real threat on the back end other than Schultz is Ryan Whitney, and he has been a shadow of the player he was before ankle injuries robbed him of his mobility. More than that, Schultz is uniquely gifted – as evidenced by his neck-and-neck race with Jordan Eberle for the AHL scoring lead during the lockout, a race that left every other player in the league in their dust. While for years the hallmark of an Oilers’ offensive defender has been a booming point shot on the power play, Schultz is a different sort of attacker – one who relies on his speed, passing, and above all a willingness to pinch in an unleash his hard and accurate wrist shot.

But if Schultz’s offensive prominence isn’t surprising, his overall lead in ice-time is. It’s also been a god-send for the Oilers, who have seen last year’s top pairing (Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry) struggle in the early going, albeit while playing tough minutes. The third pairing, playing far more sheltered minutes, has also made its share of errors. This is evident both by eye and by number.

The following chart shows the current group of seven ranked by a number of statistical measures:

CorsiRel: Shot attempts for and against (Corsi) while a player is on the ice 5-on-5 per 60 minutes of play, adjusted for strength of team. ZS: Zone starts – the percentage of non-neutral zone shifts each player started in the offensive zone in 5-on-5 situations. SC Cont.: Even-strength scoring chances each player has contributed to or been at fault on per 60 minutes. Shots +/-: The average shots for minus against over 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time. Scoring chances data via David Staples; all other data from behindthenet.ca.

The pairing of Schultz and Schultz excels regardless of measure. They’ve been given the most favourable zonestarts on the team – sensibly so, given the younger Schultz’s exceptional offensive ability – but they haven’t been given butter-soft positional minutes and they certainly haven’t faced sub-par opposition. Yet they’re well ahead by shots, shot attempts, and scoring chances. (Side point: the fact that the Oilers are starting far more often in their own end than in the offensive zone says unkind things about their 5-on-5 territorial game to this point in the season).

Schultz isn’t a perfect player, and he’s certain to have lapses now and again. But so far, he’s shown himself to be the best option for the top job on Edmonton’s blue line – and that’s far more than anyone could have expected so quickly when he signed with the team in the summer.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 RexLibris
February 06 2013, 03:36PM
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I hereby officially propose that we collect a hair DNA sample of Schultz the Younger, and using some radioactive juju and highly unstable chronotons, clone our own collection of Super Schultzes a la Professor Farnsworth.

What say you all?

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#2 Rocknrolla
February 06 2013, 11:08AM
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What a pickup!

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#3 Zipdot
February 06 2013, 11:22AM
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Yeah, thank goodness his talent wasn't wasted being piddled away on the Lame Ducks.

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#4 Czar
February 06 2013, 11:27AM
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How screwed would we be without him? The kid is the real deal, no wonder the Duck and Canuck fans were so pissed!

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#5 David S
February 06 2013, 12:39PM
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NUUUGE is out for tonight. I hope Schultz has been practicing his faceoffs.

Ahhh...we're screwed.

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#6 Archaeologuy
February 06 2013, 01:56PM
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Schultz is incredible. I cant believe that kid never played a professional game before this Fall. An absolute wonder out there.

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#7 Quicksilver ballet
February 06 2013, 11:21AM
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I think we could all see the one eagle amongst this group of turkeys long before the season got rolling. Justin Schultz by default.

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#8 Phixieus666
February 06 2013, 11:35AM
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Czar wrote:

How screwed would we be without him? The kid is the real deal, no wonder the Duck and Canuck fans were so pissed!

I was just thinking the same thing. How bad would this team be if he didn't sign with Edm. Close to last place probably.

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#9 Phixieus666
February 06 2013, 11:40AM
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Another thought, given how Fedun played before he was injured and how well he has done since. Is it logical to think of him as a Whitney replacement next season or is that stretching too far??????

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#10 michael
February 06 2013, 11:46AM
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How does Shultz's ice time compare to Paul Coffey's in his first year? Or to Karlssons?

Whitney will play tonight I assume. What is Peckhams timeline?

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#11 Will
February 06 2013, 11:54AM
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Phixieus666 wrote:

Another thought, given how Fedun played before he was injured and how well he has done since. Is it logical to think of him as a Whitney replacement next season or is that stretching too far??????

What about Klefbomb? That is going to be our top pairing in two years time. Klefbomb seems like that complete all around player, that is good at everything but not great at anything. This would put Schultz senior down on the bottom pairing, hopefully with another developing rookie that needs a solid defender to help bail him out, and allow him to develop his game. Maybe Fedun, but probably someone a little tougher. If Fistric sticks around I think that is a pretty solid looking D core.

Or dream of dreams, we get Yandle.

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#13 DSF
February 06 2013, 12:00PM
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Just an indication of how terrible the rest of the D core is.

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#14 Phixieus666
February 06 2013, 12:05PM
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Will wrote:

What about Klefbomb? That is going to be our top pairing in two years time. Klefbomb seems like that complete all around player, that is good at everything but not great at anything. This would put Schultz senior down on the bottom pairing, hopefully with another developing rookie that needs a solid defender to help bail him out, and allow him to develop his game. Maybe Fedun, but probably someone a little tougher. If Fistric sticks around I think that is a pretty solid looking D core.

Or dream of dreams, we get Yandle.

I don't really want to have any expectations of Klefbomb until we see him play in North America. If him and Fedun surprise we may be saying good bye to Whitney/Potter/Peckham.

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#15 Hayek
February 06 2013, 12:16PM
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I thought I remembered seeing a Corsi Relative Zone Start stat in the past, that normalizes relative corsi further by taking account zone starts. Any idea of this is available anywhere, or how this was calculated?

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#16 A-Mc
February 06 2013, 12:59PM
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J. Schultz is a freakin super star. I'm actually a little concerned about how expensive he's going to be in a few years when he steps out of the entry level contract. I expect he'll be even better by then too, so the dollar signs just keep adding up.

Hall, Eberle, Nuge, Yakupov, and Schultz. Who is the eventual trade piece? *shrug* I dont think we can afford to let Schultz go though, so i hope to see him around for many years.

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#17 Smythyyy
February 06 2013, 03:31PM
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A-Mc wrote:

J. Schultz is a freakin super star. I'm actually a little concerned about how expensive he's going to be in a few years when he steps out of the entry level contract. I expect he'll be even better by then too, so the dollar signs just keep adding up.

Hall, Eberle, Nuge, Yakupov, and Schultz. Who is the eventual trade piece? *shrug* I dont think we can afford to let Schultz go though, so i hope to see him around for many years.

I think we can afford to pay all of those young kids. The benchmark would be the Eberle and Hall salaries (you don't get paid more than $6M/yr) Horcoff, Hemsky, Whitney, and Khabi salaries (about $18M/yr worth) are off the payroll by that time and cap should rise so there'll be enough for the kids and the support cast. (Yak, RNH, Shultz are already paid $3.5/yr so a raise of 2.5M each = $7.5M is definitely achievable).

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#18 Racki
February 06 2013, 03:36PM
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I think J. Schultz is a great d-man, but it's interesting that he's gotten a pretty big free pass as far as defensive lapses. He's a live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword kind of player. There have been more than a few times where I've noticed him caught up ice and leading to an odd man rush the other way.

That said, I won't be too critical, cause for one, he's young... and two, I love the risk and think it's worth it for the reward, to be honest. But it just should be noted that Dubnyk or N. Schultz have bailed him out a number of times so far this year.

Other than that (which really isn't much of an issue right now), every aspect of his game has been exactly what I hope for. And I really do like that he takes the chances he does, even though it's not always panning out. He's pretty quick to get back into the play going the other way too, at least. So far he looks as supremely talented as any of our young kids do.

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#19 Rama Lama
February 06 2013, 04:18PM
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Have to agree with you on Schultz........Tamby sure came through on this one......with all his clever planning he convinced Schultz to sign in Edmonton.

If it was'nt for Tamby where would we be? Maybe he could show some real Tamby magic and do this all over again and sign a tough top six centerman.......which is what this team needs now.

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#20 Dog Train
February 06 2013, 04:39PM
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J. Schultz has been an absolute steal. He is the kind of minute-eating, puck-moving dman that good teams need. Because of his position, I think that he is the most important piece of the puzzle going forward.

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#21 justDOit
February 06 2013, 07:55PM
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I coined it here a couple of days ago: Justwin Schultz!

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#22 Old Retired Guy
February 07 2013, 10:23AM
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C--A--L--D--E--R !!!!!

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#23 Old Retired Guy
February 07 2013, 10:26AM
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This guy will be the first Oiler to ever win the Calder.

As Oiler fans, we can promote this by CHANTING

C-A-L-D-E-R everytime J Schutz does something significant/praiseworthy...... JUST DO IT!

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