April 18 2013 09:03PM
As the end of a brilliant, trying season nears its end, the American Hockey League gave out the first of what should be several awards to young Oiler Justin Schultz. The "Eddie Shore" Award--named after the "Edmonton Express"--has never been given to a rookie defender before this season.
Schultz was outstanding in OKC, with 18 goals and 30 assists in just 34 games, topped off with a plus-8 rating. His performance in Edmonton after the lockout ended was very strong, but the long season and those 30 minute AHL games have taken their toll. Here's Schultz numbers by month:
- January: 7, 3-2-5 +2
- February: 12, 3-4-7 -6
- March: 15, 0-4-4 -7
- April: 8, 1-4-5 -6
Schultz is -15 since Valentine's Day and his game has become wildly inconsistent. As talented as this young man clearly is, the offseason can't come soon enough.
IS THERE A CONCERN?
Playing NHL defense when everything is right is hard enough, playing on an empty tank must be a very difficult thing to do. Schultz has played big minutes all year long (21:33 a night in Edmonton, my bet is much more in OKC) and has remained healthy and from this angle there's been a lot of try.
The learning curve, the longer season, playing on a team that is struggling too--it all adds up to a tough finish to an outstanding rookie season. All things considered, the future looks bright.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Looking back, perhaps Schultz TOI should have been monitored more closely when he was in the AHL, but that's quibbling. The coach played his best and surely Eddie Shore would have loved the big minutes from the rookie. And maybe that's what we should take away from this season--the Shore award is awarded to the AHL's best defenseman--full stop.
Justin Schultz showed he belongs in the NHL--and that at least part of this season was an education. No sin there, that's what rookie seasons are for, to learn on the job.
I think Justin Schultz is the best young defenseman to land in Edmonton in a long long time, and worthy of an award named after the original Edmonton Express, Eddie Shore.
High praise indeed.