Who is Justin Schultz?
By now I’m sure many of you have heard of Schultz, but don’t know much about him. He was drafted 43rd overall by the Ducks in 2008, and then he played one more year in the BCJHL before heading to Wisconsin to play for the Badgers. For the past three seasons he’s honed his skills under former NHLer Mike Eaves. In the past two seasons he’s played 78 games and tallied 34 goals and 91 points.
Schultz was widely considered the best D-man in the NCAA this year, and he was a first-team All-American last year.
Can he help the Oilers? What are his best attributes?
I spoke with Eaves last week to find out what makes Schultz so enticing.
JG: What is the best skill set Schultz has right now?
ME: You can divide his skill set into two parts. First of all, he’s wired as a real competitive young man. When he was a freshman, we were playing North Dakota. There was a little incident at the end of the game, and he wanted to jump off the bench and go get involved and take care of his teammates and such. He has a real fiery kind of competitive edge within him, and that’s rare when you combine it with the fact that he is a very skilled hockey player.
His skating ability; his ability with the puck, both puck handing, both shooting the puck; and then his vision of the ice, he has got the whole package in terms of skills. Every day in practice, you can almost bet that he is going to be your hardest working player. So that’s a great combination to have; that combination of skills in terms of ability, but then being wired the way he is to work as hard as he does and to be as competitive as he is.
JG: His former teammate, Jake Gardiner, jumped right into the NHL this year and looked good in Toronto. Could you compare those two? Are they similar in style?
ME: They’re similar in some areas. Their skill set in some ways is similar. Jake Gardiner is a very good skater. So is Justin. Their ability to make good passes is there. I think Justin has a little bit more magic offensively. Not that Jake is poor in that, but Justin is just a little bit more gifted in that area in terms of he has got a shot that finds its way through. He knows when to take a little bit off of it to get it through on net, and he can bring it when he has to. And when he gets down around the net, I think that he has the ability and the vision to see a little bit more than Jake. So similar skill sets, but Justin may have just a little bit more magic.
JG: What about his size and strength. Can he take on NHL forwards?
ME: That’s one of the reasons he decided to come back this year. He wanted to get bigger and stronger and be able to compete better in those areas.
It’s interesting that you asked that. At the end of last year, Jake (Gardiner) went down and played in the American league after the season. One of the things that he told Justin is that he’d be fine with the skating and the passing, but he said these guys (pro players) are really strong. So coming back this year, Justin wanted to feel like he could kind of control those situations at this level through his strength and body position, and he did that. So he’s ready to take that next step now.
JG: If you had to look at a defenseman in the NHL, is there one that you think Schultz is similar to?
ME: It’s hard for me to say that because I don’t watch as many games as you do when you’re at that level. I’d almost have to go back and into the days when I was coaching or maybe even playing to find a guy, but even that’s hard. Somebody else has said that Justin reminds people a little bit of Scott Niedermayer in terms of his ability to play with his skating, and his ability to see the ice and do things, but he’s not the biggest of guys as a defenceman. Justin isn’t a 6‑foot‑2‑inch, 210. He’s a taller, slighter young man, but his ability to do things like Niedermayer did is an awful nice comparison.
JG: How is his defence zone coverage?
ME: It’s probably the area that he’s grown the most in terms of body position, in terms of stick position, in terms of understanding where the puck’s going defensively and being able to anticipate that. He’s done a nice job.
The one thing that’s going to jump off the ice is his offensive prowess in terms of jumping in, creating stuff, but as a defensive D-man he really has improved. Billy Butters and I have worked with him on the small things. You look for more detail into his pivots, into his puck position, into how he engages one‑on‑one. Does he keep his stick on the ice and lead with it? Does he blockout at the side of the net when people are trying to get there? These are the kind of areas that he’s improved in, and at least at this level he was able to control those areas.
WHY HE IS A PENDING UFA?
Schultz was drafted in 2008, and because it is four years after he’s been drafted, so once he officially withdrew from school (had to inform Wisconsin) he was able to become a free agent. He will be a free agent on June 1st, unless the Ducks sign him, unlikely, or trade his rights before June 1st.
The lineup of teams interested in his services will be long.
It won’t become a bidding war because he can only make the maximum base salary of $875,000 on his entry level deal. (He makes the max of the year he was drafted.) Due to his age, he will only be required to sign a two-year entry level deal, not three, and that is why he will want to go to a team where he can play, and hopefully produce, right away.
The Oilers would love to add a right-handed D-man who can run the powerplay. I doubt they’d have any issue with Schultz battling Corey Potter for his spot on the PP.
The Oilers will be like pretty much every other NHL team; they will want to sign him.
An agent, who doesn’t represent Schultz said this, "If he was my client I’d recommend he seriously look at the Oilers. They have the trio of Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins so they should improve quickly. Most importantly he could step right in and play on their blueline. He’s great on the powerplay and he’d put up some big points, which could earn him a very good 2nd contract."
That is the key for Schultz. Because he only has to sign a two-year deal, theoretically he could sign an extension as early as July of 2013, he will want to play on a team that will give him the best opportunity to put up numbers. Of course he will want to win eventually, but unlike UFAs who are 27 and 28, I think he will be more interested in ensuring he gets an opportunity to play instead of winning right away.
The Rangers are interested and two former teammates, Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonough, will likely do their best recruiting job before June 1st. The Leafs want him, and Gardiner and Schultz are supposedly tight, but the Leafs have lots of D-men. The Canucks would love to sign a B.C born player, but they have a solid backend and he might not get as much playing time in Vancouver.
WHY NOT THE DUCKS?
I was unable to get a comment from his representatives as to why Schultz didn’t sign with the Ducks. Some might take his not signing as a red flag, but a NHL GM told me that wouldn’t stop him from pursuing the BC native. In the past we’ve seen players drafted by a team, but not sign with them, re-enter the draft, and then sign with their new team and go on to be productive NHLers.
Usually team have to overpay for unrestricted free agents, and rarely is the return worth it. This is a rare case where a team will sign him, and not get burned financially or stuck with a lengthy contract, if he doesn’t pan out.
I know the Oilers are interested, and if I’m them I’d be calling the Ducks to see if they could possibly swing a deal before June 1st. You don’t give up the farm to get his rights, especially if you think you can sign him after June 1st, but I’d at least make a call to Bob Murray to see if he’s interested in dealing Schultz.
***If you are looking at a comparable return…Last summer the Flames dealt Tim Erixon, 2009 draft pick, and a 5th rounder to the Rangers for Roman Horak and two 2nd rounders.***