Has Justin Schultz hit a wall?

I’m not sure anyone’s ever done a proper study, but anecdotally it seems like players that come through the college system seem to slow down somewhere around the 40-game mark early in their professional careers.

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Justin Schultz has now played in 52 contests, and he’s in a bit of a slump.

Schultz in the AHL

Justin Schultz was a special player in the AHL during the lockout, rivaling Jordan Eberle for the (league!) scoring lead. In 34 games he scored 18 goals and added 30 assists, good for 48 points. Those would be impressive totals in the AHL at any time, but for a rookie professional during a lockout they were almost unbelievable.

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That’s obvious when comparing Schultz’s totals to those of other defenders:

Basically, in terms of points, there was Justin Schultz, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and guys who scored half as much as Justin Schultz. If Schultz had come in around Jake Gardiner territory, I would have been very impressed. If he’d come in near Slava Voynov and Nick Leddy, I’d have been fine with his offensive production. Instead, he laid waste to the league – Oklahoma City coach Todd Nelson called him the best player in the AHL, and for good reason.

Schultz in the NHL

Initially, Schultz was as impressive in the NHL as he was in the AHL. He stepped into the Oilers’ lineup and almost instantly assumed the role of number one defenceman, another jaw-dropping achievement for a rookie, even on a team like Edmonton with a relatively weak blue line. More than that, he excelled in the role – picking up points, and staying ahead of the curve in things like shots metrics and scoring chances.

The coaching staff embraced him – Schultz has played 20+ minutes in 16 of 18 games, has topped 25 minutes four times, and averages 22:40 per game, the top total on the team. He’s also the team’s most-used even-strength defencemen, playing 17:34 a night.

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But Schultz hasn’t been as effective of late as he was early in the year, both by eye and by number:

Superficially, the scoring totals are identical – two goals, three assists, five points. But digging a little deeper, Schultz has dropped from plus-1 to minus-7 and seen his shot totals cut nearly in half. Scoring chances are also going the wrong way – over the first nine games, with Schultz on the ice the Oilers were in the black; over the last nine they’ve been out-chanced roughly 3-to-2.

The Wall?

It’s possible that playing heavy minutes over more games in a shorter timeframe than Schultz is used to has worn him down somewhat. By all accounts, that’s one of the most difficult parts of making the jump to the pro ranks from college hockey. Additionally, Schultz has never had much of a respite – in Oklahoma, Todd Nelson leaned on him heavily and hasn’t taken long for Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger to take the same approach.

On the other hand, it’s still early in the NHL season. Every player has up and downs over the course of the year – even the most seasoned professionals are less than perfectly consistent. It could well just be that the last nine games represent a brief cold streak, and that Schultz will come out of it soon enough.

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Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • The Oilers in general have done worse over that last 9 game stretch too, so I wonder how much of that drop off is him and how much is a reflection of the entire club’s struggles.

    I havent noticed him jump up in the play like a 4th forward as much, but when you’re losing all the time maybe you favour playing defensively responsible more than you do playing the gambler.

  • When his hair grows back he will be fine.

    Also. hard for him to join the rush when Oilers possession turns into opposition possession so quickly because of all these horrendous turnovers. I would suspect that his “trust” of the situation has been pounded into submission by compounding evidence that the prudent play is no.. rather than yes.

  • #94 sized hole where my heart used to be...

    I think its more of a team wall as opposed to a Shultz wall. If and when more holes are plugged by our illustrious GM(team of GM’s). And the team becomes more balanced. I think he will take another step forward.

  • DSF

    The opposition has figured out his point shot on the PP and making adjustments to take it away.

    Schultz has 0G 1A at even strength so neutralizing him on the PP renders him pretty ineffective.

    • #94 sized hole where my heart used to be...

      renders him ineffective? really? because his first pass, ability to skate the puck clean out of the zone when in trouble and his average, to above average, defensive play are all huge plus’ to this team, just cuz he doesnt pick up traditional stats at even strength doesnt make him ineffective at evens

    • oilerjed

      seems to me that this is most likely caused by the oilers inablility to sustain any pressure in the offensive zone more then teams figuring him out. If teams are forced to look down low due to a continued cycle the point shots become available. With the one and dones that are the norm lately the Dmen rarely even have a chance to enter the zone. Also explains why the oil have so few goals from the whole defense not just the rookie.

      • DSF

        Chicken meet egg.

        Early on, teams were allowing shots from the point but have taken it away.

        Schultz had 32 SOG in his first 10 games…3.2/game.

        In his last 8 games he’s had only 10 SOG…1.25/game

        Another possible explanation for the inability of the other D to score is that they are just not all that good.

        Smid, Schultz Sr, Fistric, the Ghost of Ryan Whitney and Corey Potter are certainly not paragons of offence.

        Petry seems just to be having a really crappy season.

        • Phixieus666

          Petry doesn’t seem to be on the ice in a lot of offensive situations and when he is hes cheating for defense. At least thats what it seems like to me. Also I don’t understand how Potter is on the PP and Petry isn’t. I get the whole add an extra forward but having Petry and Schultz wouldn’t be a bad idea.

          • oilerjed

            “Also I don’t understand how Potter is on the PP and Petry isn’t.”

            Is it possible that they are showcasing Potter, hoping he will get some points so they can ship him out of town?

            DSF I disagree with you here. Seems to me if the forwards cant get a cycle there is no way D get shots, then no greasy scoring from secondary chances. Our D rarely get the oppourtunity to get in the offensive zone, not saying that they are a juggernaut ither though.

          • DSF

            As I said, chicken and egg.

            On the PP, the opposition is taking away the point shot meaning the forwards have to establish a down low cycle.

            Problem is, the young forwards, other than Hartikainen, can’t win puck battles very well.

    • WinterNightSky

      I am pretty sure you just click on these pages and scroll to bottom, and insert tired old argument here. Because if you had read the story, you would see how your comments are irrelevant. What Jonathan was commenting on was that Schultz’s shot totals and scoring chance ratio has taken a bad turn. His point totals are the exact same, which are still pretty sick, especially for a rookie Dman (D-man points T-18th, Goals T-5th). So the “adjustments” you speak of have not affected his point totals whatsoever in the last 9 games, but thanks for coming out. Obviously he has a lot to work on in the NHL but I would rather have a raw rookie with all his offensive and defensive prowess than 7.5 mil/yr x 13 yrs on a Dman who clearly needed a better defensive partner and a fantastic goalie behind him in Nashville to buoy his stats, and will not get any better than what you see now.

      Lets compare: J Schultz 4-6-10–6, Suter 0000-11-11–5. By your logic, then Suter’s 0 goals makes him (a) Ineffective, (b) A waste of 7.5 million/yr x 13 years (can’t wait until he’s 41, that’s when D-men hit their prime), (c) Comparable enough to our “ineffective” D-man that you should maybe get a bit of a life and stop trolling on this website trying to sound intelligent when you are clearly outclassed and outwitted at every turn, or (d) [insert new option here Oilers fans] I’ll let everyone else on here decide which answer (all of the above was too easy to include), but please, for your own sake, include a coherent argument next time you want to rag on the team, because we have lots of other areas in the team game that are ripe for insulting, but J Schultz is not even close to one you should be talking about…

  • I think it’s a combination of a few things. I think a big factor is the short College season (which I always hated about drafting the College kids). I’m sure he ate up a tonne of minutes in College, so that probably isn’t it, but NHL minutes are definitely harder than College minutes. Add to that, Oilers minutes are likely harder than any other team’s minutes. 😛

    Also, teams may be figuring him out a bit more now, but I don’t think that is too likely.. usually takes teams longer than this to hone in on a player, but definitely is a possibility.

    In reality though, his offense has died off, but the entire team’s offense has died off. That isn’t going to help him any. His defense seems about on par with how he started.

    I don’t think it’s anything to worry about.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Nothing like the old early panic button to fire up a morning of posts!

    At any rate, I don’t see JW’s options as mutually exclusive. 19 could easily be both worn down (recall that he suffered some kind of undisclosed injury around the time his production dipped and has played through it) and in a slump.

    Of course, we should also consider that this is a team sport. And the team is hardly firing on all cylinders at the moment either.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    He’s probably played 50 games this season already, most of those playing 25 mins a night. He’ll be fine during this transition into a 100 game a year player.

    Nothing to see here folks….move along.

  • Spydyr

    He looks tired out there. That is to be expected. The AHL is not the NHL. He has never played this many games at this level. Ever.

    Don’t forget these are millionaires in their early twenties. They have a lifestyle off the ice. Welcome to the show Kid. Watch out for the puck bunnies.

  • Phixieus666


    The teams overall offensive zone possession has gone down as well over this time has it not? Also how much does Schultz’ drop-off(and the teams for that matter) correlate with the loss of Horcoff? It just seems to me when horcoff was in the line up the retrieval and possession for the oil was better also with Horcoff winning faceoffs in the offensive zone Schultz was able to take a quick shot on net. Also how have his D partner N. Schultz’ stats looked over this same strectch. Just some observations/questions.

  • Re: The Rest of the Team

    Without Schultz, first nine games, at even-strength: +67/-84 – 44.4% of chances for the Oilers.

    Without Schultz, last nine games, at even-strength: +79/-89 – 47.0% of chances for the Oilers.

    Schultz plays a ridiculous amount of even-strength time, and disproportionately the drop-off over the last while has occurred with him on the ice.

    • GVBlackhawk

      Two points:

      First, you are not accounting for injuries. He has a bad back but is playing through it. Not sure how many OilersNation posters play hockey but the ones who do will know the extent to which injuries affect performance — it is significant .

      Second, the Oilers are relying on a rookie to carry the team defensively. This is a joke. I doubt any other teams have a rookie defenseman leading the team in EV TOI. Give the kid some support and watch him continue to flourish.

      How about an article on the lackluster performances of Smid and Petry. Both appear to have taken a step backwards this season.

  • Phixieus666

    Well, he might have hit the wall, but he’s certainly not alone. The entire team has hit the wall. There isnt one single player thats playing lights out hockey here.

    His minutes should be cut back a bit at this point, but how can you when guys like Petry and Smid are going south faster than the southbound Greyhound.[not to mention Whitney’s game]

    Its hard for a D man to get into the zone when the pucks are turned over faster than ping pong balls by the forwards.

  • DSF

    Hit a wall? Yes I think so, but like all good young players, he will adjust. Also, N. Schultz has been horrendous in the last ten games or so as well, which would obviously affect J. Schultz.

    The team will figure it out…maybe. We desperately need Horcoff back too.

  • Phixieus666

    I know a lot of these guys are young. But stupid plays like the one that led to hossas goal in ot should not be overlooked by the coach. If it was me petry takes a seat next game and whitney gets another shot. That was a bush league no care play in overtime. Unacceptable. Whitney shouldnt be the only whipping boy on this team.

  • DSF

    This shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s played a lot of minutes for his pro season coming out of college. If he was playing like this from the start, then nobody would be talking about it. He set the bar at an unsustainable (at least in his rookie season) level and he will adjust. The kid’s a gem.

  • Jaw17

    The powerplay hasn’t been as good as it was either, I think there is a combination of fatigue, the team player worse and other teams figuring him out, once the team picks it up his points should as well. Also I think they really miss Horc, I know it’s a sin to say such a thing around here but play dropped off with him out of the line up, whether that be players playing out of their roles or the team missing its leadership it seams they are a better team with him.

  • Minister D-

    With Whitney all but gone and Petry now more responsible for the toughs/defensive zone starts w/ Smid, J. Shultz’s drop off literally negates ANY offense the Oilers get from the back end. His adjustment period (and, I agree with others who’ve already said this, I think he will adjust) reinforces the need to improve the back end.

    Beating a dead horse: our d-core is almost entirely made up of 3-6 guys. Isn’t there an opportunity to pick up an offensive d somewhere? Where’s that Grebeshkov guy?

    • WinterNightSky

      Grebeshkov is with Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk of the KHL. Looks like he was moved by SKA this year after a tough start. I suspect that he is not the answer to our problems. Now if we could pry Renat Mamashev out of Neftekhimik to reunite with Yak…

  • Minister D-

    The reason Potter is on the PP is that he has a decent shot from the backend,, compared to Petry, or Smid. He is usually on the second pairing on the PP.

  • Wax Man Riley

    Our defense has been adjusted and tightened up, we went from a north/south activation of the playaction to a more laterally{east/west} focused quasi-transitional activation of the playaction .

    When we were setting up with a more NORTH/SOUTH focus teams had to react to that and it made J Schultz able to more easily use his laterlal movement to create offense. He was working off of their reaction to our momentum, when that momentum was focused in different places his opportunitys dried up, this system wont allow him to go right to the net and finish which is another thing he needs to do every game to threaten and stretch defenses, he needs to use ALL of his assets, Sorry Ralph but you are to micro-managerial and are eliminating players key intangibles.

    J Schultz

    These are all players who have had major components of their personal styles eliminated by Ralphs system requirements, remember these are the intangibles that made them all bar none able to excell above average at the NHL level and other levels of hockey.

    Others have learned to adjust within the system and survive but it has been through attrition, like Hall, he has hogged the playmaking away from his linemates on the best rushes so even though he has been sucessfull personally he has totally disrupted the lines dynamic action and hence their sucess — same with Hemmer, this is the systems fault not Taylors, or Aleses ,same as with Ryan Whitney and others , Hall is doing exactly as the system asks but the line has collapsed.

    I wouldnt rip Ralphs system so hard if it wasnt so full of holes. Ralph has obviously taken his men and made a statistical graph or some such thing and logged them all on to it , then he took the areas where they had historical sucess into consideration as their individual strengths, totally disregarding the many faceted constelation of dynamics that could have cpntributed to those statistics but still not fully illumintaed the individuaos true natural strengths.

    This how Ralph made and manages his lines, on a clipboard useing his gut instincts fortified by statistical analysis , he got the clipboard part right but the stats analysis reliance has overidden his pure hockey instincts, he has been taken ill by the statistical analysis cancer that is eating this team and organisations instinctive read and reaction time away daily.

    Ralph needs some Intuative Dynamic Analysis input to balance his perspective and decision making, people dont seem to aknowledge that this is a serious resource that is utilised by fortune 500 companies all the time, Intuits are rare and expensive and earn 6 figure incomes plus results based bonuses. Stats analysts cannot provide quantifiable results but are the only available and marketed solution being plugged to teams. Intuits can provide immediate results, quantifiable and immediate results, as opposed to stats analysis which convieniently requires historical context to evaluate.

    J Schultz will see greater sucess when the Managment-System-Coach-Player dynamic is changed in a permanent manner, the Managment which dictates the System component of this dynamic is the root cause of all of the franchises decade old problems, nothing else has been around long enough to have such a consistantly subjugating negative influence.

    There are many systems available, we need a new one but as you can see by the 4 main stakeholders involved it isnt as simple as just tossing a new thick playbook on the table with an evil chuckle, an entire overhaul would have to reach to the farm team and immediatly. Top level managerial positions would need to be immediatly re-evaluated, changes would need to be wholesale. Only an owner could make these changes. And to be blunt unless someone with a NewAge System an elite communication method sat down with Katz for a few hours and has his undivided attention there is no way all the defensive levels of static that exist today supporting the current structure could be navigated.

    You cant make a change this big unless you have something better to replace what you abandon. Nothing new can ever compete because there is no results based stats to read and rely on when evaluating “new” potential data, you need to use your gut, and to have knowledgable people sitting there quietly as you are tuned in just shaking their heads up or down. No salesmanship just confirmation or not of key points. Katz knows this dynamic well he must or he wouldnt have a micro-empire on the grow. He just cant be given a message because the levels of static are to deep and to numbered, who the heck is in the position to approach an NHL owner and sell them a new system of running their business without having the resources to do terminal battle with the existing infrastructure.

    First the existing power structure needs to erode itself sufficiently and then and only then can you offer a viable business dynamic that will be considered seriously. So your options are to wait for an existing competitor to implode and fail or to become aggressive and change the market climate and conditions enough to expose the weaknesses already hurting the competition even more and hasten their downfall. The NHL has obviously evolved in the last few years for some reason — the Kings use our system to win a cup, and lo and behold our current system of play is absolutely exposed and vulnerable, the results show we are not progressing at all, some might call this the climate of change, ha ha ha, the NewAge Hockey System is out there somewhere Daryl.

    We can watch players like J Schultz and Nail Yakuoov all become branded with defense over the next five years or we can stand up and say we know its the system and we want a change, the historical reality has been that fans really had no system knowledge and really no desire to even dicuss system tactics, this is overt suppression, in every other major sport people discuss coaching tactics relentlessly and system tactics as well. The word is out and it took two years to see a marked reaction, but the time is near when we will see the pressure ratcheted up to become more forthright and open about team system clarity and state of affairs.

    Watch the post-game interview with the Hawks coach and pay attention to the words he uses and where he focuses his full attention , its the system and he discusses it openly without fear, now look at their record, and remember how much they played like we did last game we played them. There is a reason for that, and it is how our coaches interpret the same system Chiacogo uses, as many teams use. But the trap style results we saw will soon be seen everywhere as the systems popularity spreads. By next year the time will be ripe to hit the NHL with a new product. The refs will soon be letting more and more go to encourage offense, ha ha ha, the adjusted hybrid is already causing system checkmates and trap like results with lots of offensive action like our games turn out.

    All J Schultz needs to do is find spots within the system execution to start coming right in closer and at the same time balance those rushes with the same deflection play he used to split the defense with Ryan Smyth and Harti. Come in and make them close the middle a few times and then when you come in fake the rush and toss it through for a deflection into the side, the tender has to square up if you are a threat to close from the middle when he sees his d-men collapse there, and that opens up both corners of the net for deflections.

    The problem is finding those creative opportunitys within the system without sacrificing defensive integrity, ha ha ha, its not all roads lead to Rome, its all roads lead to the inferior system. Not impossible system, just inferior.

    In a nutshell you cant take J Schultz out of the transitions and expect him to be effective, you are turning him into N. Schultz, if you do this he will pick up Nicks pressure release habits at the NHL level and we need him to find ways to support his own special brand of offensive hockey and this means developing his own pressure release tactics, we dont have an offensive teacher for him and these idiots managing our team dont seem to think Coffey is worth the money or something, everyone has a price, and if paul can have his name attatched to the man who might break his records it might be enough to lure him here.