Justin Schultz is a very good young defenceman, and he’s likely to be a superb offensive defenceman at the NHL level for a long time.
But he’s been awful lately.
Counting scoring chances for the Oilers’ latest embarrassing loss (this one to the Chicago Blackhawks, who clinched the Presidents’ Trophy in the win), Schultz led the team, managing to be on the ice for 10 scoring chances against at even-strength and none for. In fact, by my count, it was a totally different game for the Oilers depending on whether Schultz was on the ice or not:
- Even-strength scoring chances with Schultz on the ice: +0/-10
- Even-strength scoring chances with Schultz off the ice: +8/-10
Even-strength shots tell a similar story. With Schultz on the ice, the Oilers were +0/-14; with him off they were +17/-14. Including missed shots, the totals with Schultz rise to +1/-22, without him to +25/-16. Those are remarkable totals.
In his first eight NHL games, Justin Schultz went plus-2. He was on the ice for 46 even-strength Oilers scoring chances and 42 chances for the other team. Since then he’s been on the ice for 165 Oilers chances, and 239 opposition chances; unsurprisingly he’s also gone minus-19 over that stretch.
It probably isn’t a trend worth worrying about in the long term. Justin Schultz was the best player in a very strong lockout AHL this fall. He was an excellent college defenceman for three seasons before that. There’s a jump from that level of hockey to the NHL, but there’s very little doubt in my mind that Schultz is a better player than we’ve seen lately. Watching him in the AHL, it wasn’t just his offensive gifts that stood out – he was never physical defensively but he was highly intelligent. He didn’t get caught out of position very often – and a play like Chicago’s game winning goal, where Patrick Kane snuck behind him and took off for a breakaway just didn’t happen. Granted there’s a big difference between Patrick Kane and even a very good AHL’er, that was an example of a completely unforced error on Schultz’s part.
I don’t know if he’s run down from playing way more games than he’s used to, or if he’s playing through injury or what’s going on. But of late he hasn’t been the player he was in the AHL, or the player who climbed to the top of Edmonton’s depth chart in the early going.
He’ll need to be much better next season. I think he will be.
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