I was going to sit down and write about Justin Schultz
yesterday, but Jonathan Willis already did and it’s way better than what I was
going to write so I decided to do something different. Then I said “Screw it”
and decided to write about Justin Schultz anyway. That’s how dedicated I am to
writing about Justin Schultz.
When it comes to frustration about Justin Schultz I am no
different than anybody. This is a player who came in with expectations, started
off with a promising rookie pro campaign, then has failed to progress from
there. Actually, in many aspects I think he’s gone backwards. Watching him Jultz about in his own zone game after game is too much sometimes.
He isn’t the player in 2015 we thought he was going to be
when he finished the shortened 2013 year. I think that’s fair to say. His
ability to defend was an issue back then but his ability to attack was supposed
to balance the equation and it just hasn’t these past two seasons.
RISK AND REWARD
That first year he dominated the AHL then when the NHL
season started up he picked up 27 points in 48 games. Pro-rated over an 82 game
schedule that’s the equivalent of a 46 point season. It was a very good
To try to give Justin Schultz as much credit as possible, 27
points that year placed him 13th in defenseman scoring league wide.
He produced as much offense as Duncan Keith, Mark Streit, and Sergei Gonchar. I
re-iterate, it was a very good season.
Today he’s on pace for 30 points over 81 games and he’s 48th
in scoring by defensemen. The lack of defense is no longer balanced by the offense. The risk isn’t being offset by the reward. It is the number one reason the fans are turning on him. If Justin Schultz is not a top offensive defenseman then what is he?
As an even strength scorer, Schultz has been running in place since he arrived. This is what his production looks like in points per 60 minutes:
2012-2013 0.83 P/60
2013-2014 0.89 P/60
2014-2015 0.78 P/60
As a power play scorer things are a little different. He has fluctuated greatly but we know that coaching plays a very impactful role on the man-advantage and that the Eakins power play was brutal. I’ve broken down this year into two parts for Schultz – the Eakins production and the Nelson production. Here is what it all looks like in Points per 60 minutes:
2012-2013 5.97 P/60
2013-2014 2.99 P/60
2014-2015 1.44 P/60
2014-2015 3.77 P/60
A lot of the leeway that Justin Schultz had was due to his offense. That took a massive drop when Dallas Eakins was employed as the head coach and eroded a lot of the good will going his way. We’ve seen other players show instant turnaround after Nelson was hired. Perhaps with more time the Oilers can get Schultz playing more effective hockey. There’s still hope to salvage something out of Justin Schultz yet.
STILL AN APPRENTICE
The Wisconsin Badger has been gifted a lot of playing time from the moment he stepped onto Rexall ice, but even as he averaged 21:26 per game as a rookie, the Oilers were playing another right handed defenseman even more minutes. Jeff Petry was averaging 21:54 minutes that same year and unquestionably taking on more difficult starts and opposition while paired with Ladi Smid.
Now there is nobody ahead of Justin Schultz in the depth chart for right side defenders and Schultz is being exposed. As Jonathan Willis wrote in his piece, there’s nothing wrong with being a second pairing offensive specialist. There just isn’t. Not every player becomes a top pairing player and that’s fine.
Justin Schultz is a number four defenseman playing number one minutes. It’s absolutely infuriating to watch but I realized that I’ve felt
this frustration before. When Jeff Petry was soaking up those big minutes
before he was ready to do it he also looked like he wasn’t living up to
potential. It was only after he got closer to that fabled 300 game mark that he
looked ready. Even the most ardent Petry supporter has to admit that this was
his best season (not even that he was bad before, but that THIS was his best).
Justin Schultz is still more than 100 games away from 300
played in the NHL, although I am distinctly aware that this is a player already
in his mid-20’s. Still, I cannot help but try to sooth my frustration by
reminding myself that he is still learning how to play at the NHL level.
The non-physical US College trained player (redundant?) is
not about to embark on phase two of his career where he becomes Scott Stevens 2.0
in Oiler silks. Petry learned to be more physical but he had been at or near
the top in hits for the team for a few seasons so there was a skill that he had
at least been developing. That won’t be Schultz, but he can still learn to use
his skating to place him in better positions on the ice.
If he can get to the puck faster than everybody else and
skate it out of danger he won’t have to change his game completely. Yes he
needs to get stronger. Yes he needs to battle harder for the puck. Those things
can be improved upon without question. And the organization needs him to get
IF YOU CAN’T LOVE THE ONE YOU WANT, LOVE THE ONE YOU’RE WITH
Here’s the thing with Justin Schultz: He’s all that the team
has, so they need to start putting him in a position to succeed.
to that rookie year, that means the team needs to put somebody ahead of him in
the lineup. Heck, even this season Justin Schultz looked his best when he was
clearly playing behind Jeff Petry. The Schultz pair was flying around and looked quite competent when they didn’t take on the toughs. He needs fewer minutes, softer opposition,
and sugary offensive zone time.
The Oilers don’t have a choice, from where I sit, but to
find a better right handed defenseman by hook or by crook and slot him in ahead
of Schultz. The player just isn’t capable of handling 22-23 minutes a night on
the top pairing. It isn’t his fault he’s being played that much. It isn’t even
Nelson’s fault he’s being played that much. The depth chart for RHD looks like
The Ghost of Jeff Petry
Who else is Nelson supposed to play? There’s nobody!
I would love to say it’s time to move on from the Justin
Schultz experiment but the reality of the situation is that this management
group hasn’t shown a lot of ability to build a defense and taking more pieces
away probably isn’t the answer.
Justin Schultz is one piece of this puzzle whether you, me,
or he even likes it. As a 1D he is terrible. As a 4D he could still provide all
the things that made Justin Schultz special when he was signed as a College free agent. With fewer minutes he can be more effective as a puck mover and
attacker. He wont have to manage his energy to the degree he does now which
completely cuts out his jumping in style of attack.
If that means finding a way to take Brent Seabrook off of
Chicago’s hands in the summer to help relieve their cap problems then so be it.
Whatever it takes to put this team and Justin Schultz in a position to succeed
is necessary. The Oilers have to do something and Seabrook’s name has been out there for a little while as a potential casualty of the hard cap in Chicago. He’s not a perfect player by any stretch but he’s used to big minutes and pushes Schultz down the order and only has one more year on his deal.
I realize now that I am not frustrated with Justin Schultz.
I am frustrated with the organization’s failure to give this player what he needs
to become the best possible version of himself. He needed managed minutes, they
didn’t give it to him. He needed someone to keep the pressure off of him, they
traded him away for picks. They needed a coach to teach him how to defend at
this level, Nelson might be the guy but Eakins couldn’t figure it out. They
need someone on the team who can show him how to be an NHL defenseman, there’s
nobody on the roster with the resume to show Schultz how to maximize his
Justin Schultz is what he is right now and that’s a second
pairing player. I am going to do my best to hold him accountable to that
standard and I will hold the Oilers accountable for forcing somebody who is not
ready to handle first pairing duties into a position to fail.