Schultz: Looking to improve

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Justin Schultz has inherited the new “whipping boy” handle. When Schultz choose Edmonton over 29 other NHL teams fans were excited about his potential. He dominated the AHL in the fall of 2012, scoring 48 points in 34 games, before the lockout ended and he scored 27 points in 48 games for the Oilers.

Expectations were high for Schultz, some of it warranted, but much of it unrealistic, especially after Craig MacTavish’s ill-fated “Norris trophy potential” comment.

Schultz struggled mightily last season, and as he enters his fourth pro season many have already written him off.

I was perplexed by how many felt the Oilers shouldn’t have qualified Schultz, instead letting him become a free agent. Many of these same people spent years pounding the drum for Jeff Petry, but they believe Schultz is a lost cause. I’m not one of them.

Make no mistake, Schultz needs to play much, much better. He needs to compete more, he needs to get stronger and he needs to decide if he wants to be an effective NHL player or just a flash in the pan.

Schultz has NHL ability and skills, but he must improve in the defensive zone.

I spoke to Schultz after he signed his one year extension worth $3.9 million last week, and he sounded like a player who realizes the onus is on him to improve.

Gregor: What do you need to improve?

Justin Schultz: On the ice, just being
better defensively. Obviously, I have to clean that part of my game up; it’s
something that I’ve needed to improve on for a while now. So [I’m] doing that
now and I think that it’s going to come with a good off season. I’m getting
stronger, more powerful and hopefully that will help me.

Gregor: How will more power and strength
help you defensively?

Schultz: Dealing with the guys in front of
the net or in the corners. Not letting them get to the front of the net, and
then in turn get the puck back and then we will be able to go on offense.

Gregor: What specifically are you working
on to get stronger? Are you doing Olympic lifts?

Schultz: Yeah, we’re doing a lot of Olympic
lifts, obviously a lot of weight training for me and then the speed stuff,
getting more powerful, more explosive quickness. That will all help me improve
this year. I need be more powerful in my lower body.

Gregor: What does a regular training week look
like for you?

Schultz: Its Monday to Saturday. Usually
one of those days is kind of a yoga day, or a recovery day where you still do
something but hold back a bit. There are some speed days, usually three a week,
and then two lifting days where we work on Olympic lifts, or whatever it is to
get stronger.

The D Zone

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Gregor: Your offensive instincts come naturally,
they are the best part of your game, but what about defensive instincts? Do you
find they are the same as the offensive ones or is it something that you have
to focus on more?

Schultz: I definitely focus on that more, I
don’t know why, but it’s something that doesn’t come as naturally to me as the
offensive part. It’s something that I’ve been working on and I think that I’ve
made strides, I just haven’t been consistent with it. I need to really focus on
that this year.

Gregor: Consistency, has that been the one
thing that’s lacked in your game the last few years?

Schultz: Yeah, that’s for sure. Especially
last year, I thought there were times were I showed improvement, but then I’d have a tough couple of games. I need to bring my best effort
every night and show the player that I can be.

Gregor: At times when you’re battling
consistency, did you find that you were battling confidence as well?

Schultz: Yeah, there’s times when your
confidence isn’t that high, and obviously the last couple of years, it’s been
the case with me. But you try to battle through that and work through that, work
hard in practise and it will come and hopefully [I’ll] get off to a good start
this year and I’ll go from there.

Gregor: You like all the D-men had
different partners throughout the year. You did play the most with Oscar
Kelfbom, who is a big, strong, physical defender. Is there a type of partner
who you think will help you and complements your game?

Schultz: Um… I don’t know, you just kind of
find it. I’ve played with defensive defencemen and offensive defencemen, Jake
Gardiner in college, we we’re both pretty offensive so it’s just finding that chemistry.
I thought playing with Oscar last year that we had chemistry at times, but we
also struggled at times. It’s always a work in progress and hopefully we’ll get
another chance this year.

Gregor: You mentioned earlier how the
instincts don’t come as naturally to you in the defensive end. How do you
improve that aspect if you’re not on the ice in the offseason, is it just
thinking, is it watching film to understand where you’re supposed to be?

Schultz: Well in the off-season, you don’t
really watch too much film. I think improvement just comes with, for me
anyways, getting stronger now. But during the season, it’s watching video and
working on it at practice and that converts to a game, so training camp is
going to huge. I’m getting off to a good start.

Gregor: Many statistics suggest NHL defencemen start
to get more comfortable when they are close to the 250-300 game mark. You’ve
only played 203 games thus far. Did you feel more comfortable in the last
twenty five games compared to earlier in the season? Do you think there is
something about the three hundred game mark that makes sense as far as the
development of a defenceman?

Schultz: I’m not sure. I definitely do feel
more comfortable now than when I first [came into] the league. I was alright at
the end of the year, I had more confidence. Hopefully as I get more games, I
will feel more comfortable. I do have more confidence and I’m confident I will
improve as a player.

Gregor: Did Todd Nelson say anything to you
when he was promoted, because your overall game seemed to improve when he
became the coach.

Schultz: Not really. I was comfortable,
obviously. I played under him in the AHL and had some success there so it was
pretty comfortable for me to play with him and he’s a guy you like to play for.
So it was fun.

Gregor: You played the most minutes of any
Oilers defenceman last year. You mentioned the need to get stronger, and at
times, especially when you guys were trailing you were
playing 26 or 27 minutes, and from my vantage point fatigue seemed to be a
factor. Being a smaller player it is tough to battle bigger players even when
you are 100% rested, but when you are a bit fatigued and don’t have the
strength, it’s going to be even more difficult. Did you experience this on the
ice?

Schultz: Yeah, there were definitely times
when I was fatigued, and again that comes down to having a good off-season and
being ready to be put in those situations. To play those minutes you have to be
in shape and that comes from training hard in the summer. I’ve been doing that
so far this year and hopefully I will notice a difference when the season
begins.

INTENSITY…

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Gregor: When Todd Nelson came in he
mentioned, “I want our guys to stick up for themselves more and stick up for
their teammates more.” Is that something that you need to add to your game?

Schultz: Yeah, for sure. I need to bring
that edge to my game, kind of like a guy that I look up to, Drew Doughty, he
has that edge. He’s a player I want to play like so that’s definitely something
I need to do this year and I need to start off with that.

Gregor: How do you implement that into your
game more?

Schultz: Just being more into the game and
being more physical. I’m not going to be that guy that’s going around hitting
guys, but I can always lay a check here and there and show that I’m willing to
do that and stick up for my teammates whenever I need to do that.

Gregor: Do you have a cheap element to your
game? Do you feel
you need to show more emotion, energy and passion in your game next season?

Schultz: Yeah, I definitely need to bring
that. I think that comes with getting into the game and being competitive and
getting mad out there. I think if our team’s a little more successful this year,
you become more intense, we’re going to want to win and do well so it’s
something that will hopefully come through.

Gregor: Has Todd McLellan reached out to
you since he was named the head coach of the Oilers, if so, what did you guys
discuss?

Schultz: Yeah, I talked to him yesterday
and he just wanted to introduce himself. He told me to come to camp in shape
and ready to play, not get fatigued like you said before, and be able to play
those minutes. It’s exciting, I’m excited to play for him, I’ve heard great
things about him.

Gregor: It’s been quite the off-season for
the Edmonton Oilers. As a player what were your thoughts from the lottery until
now. How has it changed your mindset and the outlook of your team?

Schultz: Yeah, it’s exciting for sure. I think
it’s a fresh start for me, I can come in with a clean slate with the new
coaches and work with them. I’m sure it’s going to be a fun place to be for a
number of years here.

Gregor: With social media, it is difficult
to be immune to things that are said and written. There are a lot of people in
Edmonton who doubt your ability. What do you say to the doubters heading into
next season?

Schultz: [Laughs] I don’t know. It’s
something I try to shut out, but I’m hoping my play on the ice can do the
talking and I know I need to improve. I’m the first person to admit that, and I’m
planning to come into camp ready to go, have a strong start and show those
people I can play.

PARTING SHOTS…

I’ll give Schultz credit, he didn’t shy away from discussing his weaknesses. Putting the work in the gym in the summer will help him on the ice. He simply wasn’t strong enough to push guys off the puck or battle in front of the goal. If he gets stronger he should be able to win the odd battle, and if he does then his confidence should grow.

He also needs to play fewer minutes. Even if he gains ten pounds and gets stronger, I don’t believe he can play at the top of his game for 23-24 minutes/game. It is extremely taxing on the body to play that much, and I believe he can be more effective playing fewer minutes. McLellan doesn’t play his D-men big minutes.

Outside of 2012, when the Sharks had injury issues and Dan Boyle (25:34/game), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (23:09) and Brent Burns (22:32) McLellan rarely over extends his blueline.

In 2013, Boyle played the most, 22:47/game, with Vlasic second at 20:49.
In 2014, Boyle led with 21:16 and Jason Braun was at 20:59.
Last year, even with a fair amount of injuries, Burns led with 23:57 and Vlasic played 22:06.
Schultz played 22:36/game last season and 23:20/game in 2014. He was used too much, and McLellan will lower his minutes and I expect he will play him in more favourable situations.

Schultz does need to get stronger, like most of the young Oilers, but his mental toughness needs to improve. He must be willing to engage in the corners and in front of the goal. He has to at least compete for puck battles.

He has excellent offensive instincts, and the Oilers need someone to produce offence from the backend. He needs to shoot the puck more on the PP, but I feel much of his struggles last season came from a lack of confidence. If he can start well, he can have a productive season.

He sounded like he knows what he needs to do to improve, and is willing to put in the work, but we won’t know if he is willing to battle hard enough until the season begins.

I’m not ready to write Schultz off just yet. With fewer minutes and better matchups, I think he can be a productive player.

TRANSPARENCY…

***If you aren’t interested in lacrosse, simply don’t read this. Then you won’t have to complain something non-hockey related was in the article. 🙂 ***

People believe because I call NLL games that I’m bias regarding the relocation of the Rush.

I have no issue explaining all issues of this matter.

As I have written many times I find it embarrassing that a city loses a championship team. I blame the Rush, the city and OEG. None of the three parties did enough to keep the team here. I’m proud to live in Edmonton and I want the city to offer as many possible sporting, arts, culture and educational opportunities to fans and children. I’m annoyed by the Rush relocation, and I’m not afraid to say so..

Some claim I’m bias because I’m losing money. They are mistaken.

My friend Bob is an employee of OEG. 100% of his salary is paid by them, and I’m not in the same boat.

I’m a freelancer. I rent my airtime on TSN and garner money through advertising. The Rush contributed to exactly 0.007% of my company’s revenue this past year. They did pay me to call games in the first two seasons, but they have not done games on the radio for the past eight years. (I could argue talking about Rush as often on my show might have cost me money, since some hockey-only fans didn’t like it. I talk lacrosse and other sports, because I’m a sports fan and on a Sports station.)

I was paid to call games by Sportsnet in the past and this year on TSN by Bell Media. None of the regular season games occurred in Edmonton this season. I was contracted to call games in western Canada, and the Rush moving to Saskatoon doesn’t alter that. I’d call game despite no team in Edmonton. For the three games I did on the webcast the NLL paid me, not the Rush. In fact, for the past few seasons I chose to call fewer games on the web, because I wanted to be home more often with my wife and son.

Who is to blame?

The Rush could have marketed better. No question. I voiced my displeasure often over the past five years, especially the most recent seasons, because I felt they should have marketed the players better. Urban wanted to give fans more of an “experience” by bringing in Georges St.Pierre and others. Doing that was fine, but it should have been on top of regular marketing.

Many claim Bruce Urban was difficult to deal with. I never said he wasn’t, but in my personal interactions I’ve never had any issue with Bruce, and we’ve strongly disagreed on how he marketed the team. They also made a bad decision cancelling their lacrosse school program this past year after nine years.

So the negatives against the Rush are bad marketing, stopping lacrosse program and a difficult owner.

The other side…

From day one the city and OEG made life difficult for the Rush. I’ve never understood why. Lacrosse was never going to steal hockey fans. I’ve also stated this began under the EIG, but it did not improve under OEG. Little things like using the suites could have helped. The relationship was strained from day one, before anyone had to “deal” with Urban.

Today, the Rush had no long-term option in Edmonton. Rexall Place will not be around past the 2017 season. You can expect an announcement in October unveiling their long-term plans. Northlands offered the Rush a one-year extension on their lease. As a businessman, I can understand why an owner would look for a better alternative. His franchise becomes less valuable the closer he gets to 2017, especially with no place to play. By next year or even in 2017, someone else might have relocated or expanded out of Saskatoon.

I’m a fan of lacrosse, I think it would be better for the city if a team played here, especially one as good as the Rush and I don’t believe enough was done to try and keep them here.

Northlands said last week they were now interested in an expansion team. If they were, why didn’t they offer to buy the Rush? The cost would be pretty much the same as an expansion team, except you’d buy a championship one. I ask the same of OEG. We know they will want to fill dates at the new arena. I even mentioned to them the costs would be the same, and they should make an offer.

Even if Urban kept owning the team, all three parties should have found a way to co-exist. Toronto and Calgary, up until Flames bought the team, had independent NLL ownership, but they played out of arenas managed by the NHL teams. If othere cities could manage it, why not Edmonton? Make Urban sign a deal stating he needs to market the team better to play in the new rink. There could have been other options.

If Urban was so difficult to deal with, then make him a solid offer and be rid of him. If Northlands and OEG are interested in an expansion team, they should have made an offer to buy the championship team.

I won’t write about the relocation anymore, but I felt it was necessary to inform people my disgust with this situation is not fueled by money, not in the least. All three sides screwed up, but I don’t believe in taking pot shots to players or teams when they leave. I don’t write negative articles about players after they are traded or move on. I either do it while they are here, or not at all, and I didn’t agree with the mayor taking one at the Rush yesterday in a press release.

“I am hopeful that Edmonton will be home to a professional
lacrosse team again. I am confident that a well-managed professional lacrosse
team can be successful in Edmonton and I will work with any prospective owners
to bring a franchise here in the fullness of time.” 

Is a championship team not well-managed? I’d say they weren’t well-marketed, but the team was successful on the floor. How did their bad marketing impact the city financially, because his statement is only focused on finances. Last I checked the Rush were not costing city taxpayers anything. They always paid their bills, and in fact, Tim Reid from Northlands said he had no issues dealing with Urban.

I’ve sent requests to have Iveson on my show to discuss this matter, but was told in June he didn’t have time over the next two months. Which is odd, considering when Mandel was mayor he always found time to come on and discuss sports issues. I’d have many questions for the mayor about this situation.

One being why did the Rush pay OEG $27,000/game to use the scoreboard? The province and city funded the new scoreboard many years ago, so shouldn’t that money have been going to the city (taxpayers) not the Oilers?

I’m all for transparency on this issue, but suggestions that money fuels my anger are incorrect. I’m annoyed because it doesn’t look good on the city. There were better solutions. I’m confident Edmonton will get a new NLL team, and that is great, but the team won’t be nearly as good. Rush fans had stuck with the team when they were losing and finally got a champion, and to lose them in this fashion is disappointing.

All parties let it get personal and lacrosse fans, which I’m one of, are the ultimate losers in this relocation.

Recently by Jason Gregor:      

  • O.C.

    I think Gregor did Schultz a big favor by providing leading questions in an effort to get Schultz to elaborate on his growth opportunities. Many of his responses were pretty much a simple acknowledgement of what Gregor was pointing out in the question (consistency and confidence issues). Schultz makes little reference to the techniques that smaller defencemen use to effectively make defensive stops on the rush or during cycles (were the defensive coaches that pathetic or was Schultz allowed to simply ignore them). It is no secret that smaller defensemen like Duncan Keith use exceptional conditioning to make up for any size issues that they face. Schultz has a college education so it should not be too difficult for him to figure out his challenges. Doesn’t his agent have a vested interest to provide him with sound advice to improve his game (garnering a better contract)? A big strong physical Defenseman from the WHL, mentioned to his buddies how overwhelming it was to handle Rick Nash when he first faced him (he alluded to the strength, speed and skill that Nash displayed). Didn’t Schultz likely have the same experience against Getzlaf and other dominant western conference forwards. I have a terrible suspicion that Schultz has a low hockey IQ (or a hugely inflated ego).
    Unless Schultz was using his defensive partners as what constitutes effective defensive play, he has no excuse for neglecting the development in his defensive play (good defense can be taught and learned with repetition and hard work). Expecting to develop the necessary skills in this fall’s training camp and pre season will be a huge challenge for Justin. He should be on the ice this summer working with a coach (it is no different than improving your skating). I wish him the best.

    • O.C.

      You should look up what a leading question is.

      What are you doing to improve?

      How will more power and strength help you?

      Were you inconsistent?

      Have you spoke with McLellan?

      How are those leading?

      Also, mentioning Duncan Keith as example is ridiculous. Keith is a freak. He is a rarity. Mentioning him means you think like MacT and expect Schultz to be a Norris winner.

      Schultz will not perform like Keith. Even mentioning the two together is a mistake.

      • 15w40

        Mike, was the intent of the interview simply to get confirmation from Schultz that he was aware of his short comings from the previous two seasons? If so, I stand to be corrected. I would have expected Gregor to get Schultz to clarify how he will be able to break up cycles in the Oilers end and handle larger opponents in front of the net (if Schultz already knows how, why doesn’t he demonstrate it).
        Would it be more reasonable to use Jared Spurgeon, or Roman Josi as examples (their workout regimes are not as well known but they are also examples of smaller defensemen who win battles for the puck).
        I am guessing that you could have provided similar responses to those that Schultz provided regarding improvement since Gregor identifies, Olympic lifting, confidence and other suggestions in his questions. Schultz simply responds yes to those questions without elaborating on what he needs to do differently to change (since his current strategies have left weaknesses that the majority of posters on this site reflect on regularly).
        If you felt Schultz demonstrated an understanding of how he can overcome the weaknesses in his defensive game then your reading more into his responses that I did. Good on you.