Out of the Blue

This is Justin Schultz. In terms of adding a possible free agent for the Oilers this off-season, there are many things that make him an ideal target for the team.

So far during our look at solutions to the Oilers blue, we’ve concentrated on UFA’s, RFA’s and possible trade partners. In this case, we’re looking at a young man who may be about to use a loophole in the system to gain free agency before his first pro game.

I’m not going to go too far into the technicality that allows UFA status, but the current CBA says a player like Schultz can in fact inform his school (Wisconsin) he’s leaving, wait until summer when the option becomes available, and then sign a contract with one of the 30 available NHL teams.

There are limits on the dollars that can be spent for this player, so there’s nothing terribly unique about Edmonton’s offer in the form of cash. They do have an interesting opportunity for the young man, expressed well by Bob McKenzie last night in the NHL on tsn quiz. The question was:

Who is most likely to sign unrestricted free agent defenceman & blue-chip prospect Justin Schultz of Wisconsin?

McKenzie: I‘ll say the Edmonton Oilers because I think this Kelowna kid would be happy to play in Canada. I also think it would be great for him to grow old with guys like Ryan Nugent Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall and he’s the missing piece of the puzzle in Edmonton: power play quarterback.

Schultz is being described as one of the best prospects in the game, and his scouting report suggests a wide range of skills including size and speed. His Desjardins NHLE–the number implied by his current NCAA season if placed into the NHL–is 82, 15-25-40. In other words, he’d be at the front of the line offensively for the Oiler group (I’d also include Whitney and Petry as players who could hit 40 points from the current roster).

SOMETHING FROM THE PAST

This recalls the old Oilers, the Sather Oilers. They pulled more good defensemen out of nowhere than Carter has liver pills. In fact, the golden era of Oiler hockey featured some guys who didn’t hit the big time on their draft day:

THE FIRST STANLEY TEAM’S BLUE (1984)

  • Paul Coffey, taken 6th overall in 1980
  • Kevin Lowe, taken 21st overall in 1979
  • Charlie Huddy, signed as a free agent in 1979 after passing through undrafted
  • Randy Gregg, signed October 1982 at age 26 after two years in Japan. Never drafted.
  • Lee Fogolin, acquired from Buffalo at the expansion draft.
  • Don Jackson, acquired in a hockey deal for Donny Murdoch.

So the Oilers got healthy in a hurry, by using the draft and several other avenues to acquire talent. Schultz would fall into the "Randy Gregg" or "Charlie Huddy" category in that he’ll be available to all NHL teams.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

Could mean nothing. The other 29 teams have a story to tell and Edmonton’s future–while bright–is in the distance. A team like Pittsburgh, or Boston, or Vancouver could offer this player a chance to start in the penthouse and that’ has some appeal.

Still, there’s a chance and I’m sure the Oilers are preparing for the opportunity. There might also be some back room wheeling and dealing, whereby Edmonton sends an asset (pick or prospect) to Anaheim for the right to talk to this young man before everyone else gets a chance.

It’s risky, and a little daring. Sounds like something Glen Sather might have done 30 years ago.

Previously in the series: