Justin Schultz’s role on the Edmonton Oilers blue line

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Any conversation about the 2014-15 Oilers’ defence corps needs to start with a simple truth: Justin Schultz has been ordained as the team’s No. 1 defenceman, and the success or failure of the group is likely to hinge to a great extent on his success or failure in that role.

MacTavish

Craig MacTavish6

General manager Craig MacTavish isn’t the coach, but he is the primary architect of the hockey team and he talks to the coaching staff all the time. So when he talks about a player’s usage, it only makes sense to listen.

At his most recent press conference, the G.M. said that Schultz has “Norris Trophy potential”, disagreed emphatically with the perception that Schultz was a little weak on the defensive side of the game and said that his eyes and the analytics weren’t on the same side when it came to the player’s ability.

He also made it clear that he didn’t think Schultz was getting too many minutes.

“I suspect that Justin is going to camp [and] we’re all going to see a player playing at a different level,” he said in response to a question on that topic. “I think there’s going to be some significant improvement in him at training camp and I expect him to play every bit as much [as he did in 2013-14].”

MacTavish did allow that there were some role-specific areas (he mentioned the penalty kill) where Schultz might not be the best defenceman on the team, but he made it clear that under his watch the Oilers believe firmly in both Schultz’s potential and his ability in the present.

Usage

Dallas Eakins 8

Under Dallas Eakins’ watch in 2013-14, Justin Schultz played a lot:

  • 18:55 per game at evens, which ranked first on the Oilers and 27th overall in the NHL. It’s better than a minute per game more than No. 2 ranked Andrew Ference, who was Schultz’s regular defensive partner.
  • 3:26 per game on the power play, which ranked first on the Oilers and 14th overall in the NHL. It’s a full minute per game more than No. 2 ranked Philip Larsen, who himself was more than a minute ahead of anyone else.
  • 0:58 per game on the penalty kill. This figure was ninth on the team, behind not only most of the regulars but also back of part-timers like Corey Potter and Taylor Fedun.

That’s more-or-less what we should expect this season, too: first unit duty at evens and on the man advantage and spot work while shorthanded.

But it’s also important to recognize what kind of minutes Schultz played last season. Normally, it’s fair to assume that the guy who plays the most minutes is also drawing the toughest competition, but that just wasn’t true in Schultz’s case last year. Schultz ranked fourth of the Oilers’ four regular defenders in Quality of Competition and it’s instructive to compare the guys he saw most frequently against the players that fellow right-side defender Jeff Petry was facing:

Schultz
Top 10
Petry Top 10
Antoine Vermette Ryan Getzlaf
Ryan Kesler Corey Perry
Justin Williams Mikkel Boedker
Mikkel Boedker Daniel Sedin
Radim Vrbata Joe Thornton
Andrew Cogliano Radim Vrbata
Martin Hanzal Martin Hanzal
Mike Cammalleri Mike Ribeiro
Chris Higgins Brent Burns
Matt Stajan Joe Pavelski

One of those lists looks much more fearsome than the other, and it’s instructive to look at the players on each list from the same team. Petry drew Getzlaf and Perry; Schultz got Cogliano. Petry was matched against the Sedin line; Schultz got Kesler. Obviously, this wasn’t a hard-and-fast rule – both players share a lot of the same Coyotes names, for example – but there’s enough there to convey the pattern.

Schultz’s pairing played the most minutes, but most nights it was Petry’s unit taking on the opposition’s lions.

It’s important to note that this usage isn’t necessarily damning for Schultz. MacTavish has previously cited the Chicago Blackhawks as a team to emulate, and they do something similar – Duncan Keith hoovers up the minutes but the toughest assignments primarily go to Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya. That coaching decision doesn’t make Keith a weak defenceman; it just means that Joel Quenneville finds it in his team’s best interest to use Hjalmarsson as the shutdown specialist.

77-Belov-4

We’ll likely see the same thing again this season, though perhaps with a new partner. Schultz’s analytics ticked up dramatically last year when he was separated from regular partners Ference and Nick Schultz and united with Anton Belov, Oscar Klefbom or Martin Marincin – all big, strong defenders with puck-moving ability. Newcomer Nikita Nikitin is a similar player-type but with a lot more experience and a much bigger contract (which matters because it reflects the team’s belief in his abilities). I wonder too about Marincin, now that he has some games under his belt – they only played an hour together in 2013-14, but at the time Marincin was still pretty wet behind the ears.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Serious Gord

    Its great to see young Mr. Schultz get confidence from the Oilers management and coaches but I can see Petry was the guy to go to far more when it came to trying to shut down the bigger guns of other teams majority wise.

    I think Schultz is an excellent skilled young defenceman who will get better with better offence to show for it as well…but IMO… I think the Oilers should balance their defence better with Petry and Nikitin as the top shut down line, Fayne pairs up with Scultz as he is a top shut down guy who will protect Scultz’s lapses defensively at times, and let young Marancin get stronger with the experience of ference to back him up as a 2A pairing setup.

    This may not be correct but something like this would balance everyone better.

    Thank goodness the Youngstars’ Tournament, the Bears/Oiler Rookies game, and most of all… TC begin in the next 10 days…yahoo!!

  • Zarny

    On Lowetide’s show recently, Rob Vollman used Keith Yandle as the gold standard for how Schultz should be used and I agree 100%.

    Lots of minutes but against lower competition. Like barely above the horizon on a player usage chart. Schultz simply isn’t physically strong enough or intense enough to be knocking behemoths like Getzlaf and Perry off the puck. Set him up for success.

      • Zarny

        Not necessarily Ed.

        MacT’s comment was about potential; as in the future. I think you have to be pretty obtuse to think he was talking about the season coming up. I think Nathan MacKinnon has Hart and Art Ross potential but I don’t expect he’ll be in the conversation in the next year or two.

        My comment, as I suspect Mr. Vollman’s, was on player usage in the here and now.

        If, in 3-5 years, Schultz’ strength, intensity and defensive game improves and reaches that Norris potential you would probably use him differently than next year. Until he reaches that potential though it’s smart to shelter Schultz from the heavy minutes.

  • BlazingSaitls

    I cant speak to Corsi/Fenwick but I will go Old School with + / –

    I predict Jultz will end the season with a -13 and 42 points. 13 goals, 29 assists.

  • sportsjunkie007

    This team will be a heck of lot better off, if and when the forwards get their sheet together and play possession and defensive hockey.Its not all up to the defense men.

    PS. Getting rid of the SWARM may also help.
    Hope Ramsay has some new ideas here.

  • sportsjunkie007

    Ok, if everybody is going to talk onion rings…

    Get a deep fryer for your home, get the frozen rings at M&M meats. Add some zing to your onion rings by dipping them in Bullards Louisiana Supreme hot sauce. Deeeeelicious!

    Now to wait for the Jonathan Willis/Martha Stewart crossover blog…

  • Dan 1919

    It’s pretty straight forward now. Shultz has to put his money where his mouth/ego is.

    Keep in mind he is now the second highest paid Dman behind Nikitin, meaning he went out of his stubborn way to make sure he got paid more than his buddy Petry and Ference. I’m of the mindset that Petry has some big defensive shortcomings that only he can address, but at the end of the day, Petry was still better than kid Shultz last year.

    People say this is the politics of the game and it all gets ignored once on the ice, but let’s keep in mind how high Shultz has valued himself over his teammates.

    Having an ego is fine and even to be expected when dealing with elite players, but that’s the problem here, not only is Shultz not elite, he’s not even better than Petry. Let’s hope for Shultz’s sake that he has an unreal breakout season, if not, hello new Shawn Horcoff/Oiler skape goat.

  • Serious Gord

    Ok I get when mact says “Norris” feathers get ruffled, but to say u can’t see where he’s coming from or he’s dillusional is a stretch. If Detroit, San Jose or Chicago got him when every team in the nhl was trying to get him what would the opinion be on Shultz? He came to the Ahl and dominated it. Period. When is the last time a dman did that? I m really asking cuz I don’t know/remember. Now he comes the nhl puts up 20 plus pts in 48 games. At this point you can say he’s tracking pretty well. Now we all know the disaster of last year and the growing pains Shultz had as well. Based on the information mact has up to this point is it really hard to see how he can come up with Norris potential? He’s not saying he’s there yet but that he has it in him. Can’t blame him for backing his player and trying to set bar high for him as well. What will everyone say if he breaks out? Mact had a lucky guess?

  • knee deep in it

    I pretty much agree with Stacked Pad Save except for one change I would do

    Nikitin (L) and Schultz (R) – playing offensive zone starts

    Marincin (L) and Fayne(R)- playing defensive roles and D zone starts

    Ference (L) and Petry(R) – playing defensive roles and D zone starts

    Fayne has said that he prefers to play with guys who are good puck movers. IMO, Marincin is better than Ferrence. With easier opposition, the Petry / Ference pairing should excel.

    • ComeAtMeDog

      Pfft . A&W all day long son .. Get some seasoning sauce and that’s heaven . DQ for burgers for sho although . Mozzarella burger is good … Better than northlands burgers when I was flipping them trying to sneak off to watch the oilers every 5 minutes

        • sportsjunkie007

          Best burgers are at In-n-Out Burgers in Vegas period. No discussion required. I hope they get a team soon, so I have another reason to visit sin city.

          And does no one on this site have spell check on their computer? If your post is half underlined in red, it doesn’t mean that the computer likes your opinion. It means you can’t effing spell.

    • judgedrude

      yah not bad. Burger baron does a nice job.

      I’d just like to add yakupov is terrible.

      Schultz I’m trying to figure out where he fits into the spectrum between Zubov or Poti…or perhaps Barker. It’s grim at any rate.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    It’s the offseason and we’re heavily dependent on hope and ‘what ifs’.

    Jultz has a lot of questions being asked about his abilities. He hasn’t yet provided any answers.

    I’ll believe it when I see it.

  • Serious Gord

    Very damning bit of analysis there – Destroys Mact’s comments about what he sees versus what the stats say. (Not really advanced stats just deeper drilling – well done Johnathon) They also say to me that his coach thinks petry is the #1 not Shultz.

    And I think MAct’s rhetoric is ridiculous. Rather than saying he thinks shultz is a norris quality player – that he’s the number one, why doesn’t he say that it is now up to Shultz to prove that he is – that it is up to the player to prove to fans that they are the number one; that management will give him ample opportunity do so, but that in the final analysis the responsibility rests with the player?

    It seems at a subconscious level MacT is unable to delegate responsibility. Guess that executive MBA didn’t cover much on human resource management and delegation/empowerment.

    • Zarny

      MacT did say it is now up to Schultz to prove it on the ice.

      Of course, it doesn’t really matter what MacT says. You’ll hear what you want to hear.

      Or maybe you just don’t understand what the word potential means.

    • Wax Man Riley

      You really just type without thinking, don’t you? Every post is to take a shot at MacT or Stauffer or The Oilers to try to make yourself smarter than the smartest guys in the room. I’m not saying you’re not, or that I’m not, or Bubbles the Chimp isn’t, but it’s pretty tiring. Do a bit of research before you start to spew, and keep your opinions based on fact and not what you assume happens behind closed doors.

      In that media availability he did say it was now up to Schultz.

      • Serious Gord

        When have I ever taken a shot at Stauffer?

        I have said many good things about some oil players over the years. Problem is theist eight years has been like looking for ponies in piles of pooh.

        MacT stuck the ‘up to Shultz’ language at the tail end of the presser. As an afterthought – after he got his place of prominence in place.

        Ps – thanks for reading.

      • R U Kidding Me!

        If our opinions could only be stated based on fact than this site would get awful quiet. I can’t count the number of comments on how much this team has improved this summer and how great Mac T is. Nothing but wishful thinking – were is the fact to support Oil progress? Can you say 28th place? Thats a fact.

  • Sorensenator

    We all know Justin Schultz is not the strongest in the defensive zone however I believe he has an unlimited ceiling in the offensive category. It took a couple years for Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban to show their offensive prowess.

    I’m not saying J. Schultz is in the same conversation as Subban and Schultz, but he has the potential to be. There is no doubt in my mind.

  • CMG30

    This is one of those MacT moves that i don’t agree with. I do agree that Schultz has potential but I haven’t seen anything yet that would aproach a Norris candidate. IMHO they need to shelter him and let him continue to work on the missing aspects to his game. at this point in time he’s not a number 1 defenseman on any team except, I guess, the Edmonton Oilers.

    • judgedrude

      Most defensemen spend some time in the AHL. A potential Norris candidate may, for instance, be the only rookie to ever win the Eddie Shore award as the AHL’s top defenseman in a year when many quality, young NHLers were playing in the minors.

      That hasn’t translated to the NHL perfectly, yet, but it is something that could project in the future.

  • McRib

    MacT. not only seems to be the team spokesman and Gm , but almost the coach as well , with Eakins and rest of coaches in assistant roles . Wonder just how much freedom Eakins has ?

  • Stack Pad Save

    I see the D pairings looking like this for the following season:

    Nikitin (L) and Schultz (R) – playing offensive zone starts

    Marincin (L) and Petry (R)- playing all scenerios

    Ference (L) and Fayne (R) – playing defensive roles and D zone starts

    I think that all 3 D pairings get used a near equal amount of time.

    I also see K. Aulie as the 7th Dman riding the press box and if injuries occur than Klefbom is number one call up and his wide variety of skill set can allow him to fill in on anyone on the Oilers D role.

    Of course, Nurse or Klefbom could blow this whole scenerio out of the water with a dominating showing during the preseason/tryouts/first 9 games.

  • sportsjunkie007

    I like Justin Schultz as a player, but I still haven’t seen what MacT sees in him. I think that he’s got potential, but nothing about his game suggests Norris trophy winner to me.

  • Great article. Im hoping that Schultz getting paired with a solid defender like Nikitin will hopefully start to crack open that potential. If the Oilers are going to have any type of success it’s going to have to come on the back on a much improved D (obviously) and as much as people have been downgrading him, Schultz will play a massive role in that.