Does Schultz Spend Too Much Time Down Low?

Yesterday, Travis Yost posted an interesting article at TSN about Justin
Schultz and how involved he is as the shooter on grade “A” chances in the
attacking end of the ice. It goes to highlight just how odd this player is in one
aspect of his contributions. It also opens up the question of whether a
defenseman can be overly involved in the grade “A” scoring chances as the
shooter.

First and foremost I implore everybody to read Yost’s post.
He is a bright contributor to TSN and main stream hockey analytics. To get down
to the meat and potatoes of the post, Justin Schultz was the shooter on 7.4% of
Edmonton’s grade “A” scoring chances over the course of the last few years. Grade “A”
chances are labelled thusly because they come from high danger areas that are relatively
close to the net. For a defensemen, that 7.4% is way ahead of the norm.

Justin Schultz was number one among NHL defenders by this
measure. The implication here is that Justin Schultz is shooting significantly
more from these up-close areas than his peers. Yost’s data shows that the next
closest defender was a little more than two percentage points less involved as
the shooter on those types of chances. That’s a huge difference given the low
percentages we’re discussing here. Additionally, the names we think of as elite
offensive defensemen aren’t necessarily alongside Justin at the top of the
list.

This is where marrying what we see with what we record can
be so interesting. One of the biggest knocks on Schultz has been his inability
to shoot from the point. Instead he prefers to creep in down from the point to
take shots from shorter distances. In fact, in many cases him dropping from the
point to take exactly the kinds of shots that are recorded as grade “A” chances
appeared to be set plays. It’s not just that Schultz likes to jump in, but it
was heavily encouraged along the way.

But isn’t shooting from high danger areas a good thing?

Perhaps yes, and perhaps no, depending on how frequently
this is happening and who is taking the shots. As Yost notes in his article,
every time Justin Schultz takes one of those shots it’s a Grade A chance
that RNH, Hall, or Eberle isn’t the shooter for.

When we consider the traditional role of the offensive
defensemen, which is to distribute the puck up ice to the forwards as well as
provide offense from the blueline, we might wonder how Schultz’ usage and
contributions affect the offense when it becomes the forwards’ job to get the
puck to him so he can provide offense from well below the blueline.  

One of the most common suggestions heard for Schultz is to
turn him into a forward. We can see here that in many respects he already is
one. He is certainly not contributing to Edmonton’s offense in what we might
consider a “normal” way, even for an offensive defender. That doesn’t make it
the “wrong” way, but it does open up a lot of questions. For example, does
Justin Schultz’ preference for being the attacker down low so frequently close
more opportunities to score than it opens? Does it open more chances against?

I don’t presume to have the answers but Yost’s article is
extremely fascinating. We know that the Oilers threw Schultz over the boards
excessively in his first few years as a pro. We know that he isn’t a shooter from
the blueline. And we know that he loves to creep in down low. But what are the
unintended consequences of having a defenseman so frequently be in this area?
We might expect to see Nugent-Hopkins cover the point significantly more than
his peers and find himself taken out of the offensive play as a result. I’m not
saying that’s exactly what was happening but we can ask the question.

Gatling_gun_1865

Schultz is not a volume shooter. Last year he was 72nd
in shots per 60 minutes for defensemen with at least 1000 minutes played at
even strength. He had 90 shots at even strength in 2014-2015, which isn’t very close to the numbers elite offensive defensemen produce. In terms of individual scoring chances, Schultz had 68 and recorded 25 individual high danger scoring chances as per War-On-Ice. That means a little more than 36% of all his chances came from that middle-low slot area. That’s a significant amount of time spent away from the points. 

Grade “A” chances are a good thing. We want the Oilers to create as
many of those as possible. Justin Schultz has an abnormally large amount of
these chances for a defender. Like Yost, I wrestle with whether or not what he’s
doing is helping or hurting the club just as many wrestle with trying to define
Justin Schultz as an offensive defenseman or the fourth forward on the
ice.

I am interested to see whether or not this trend continues under new head coach Todd McLellan. Is this oddity an asset the club can use or a symptom of a problematic offensive philosophy? We’ll wait and see how things start to shape up this fall.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    Or…… Maybe he’s the only one left open on the ice because he’s the least dangerous player to have in that Grade A Scoring position.

    I have little faith in this bum. Hopefully McLellan whips him into shape.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    Not sure why BradlyPi has such a love on for Schultz?

    Blame Perron (who was the leading goal scorer on the team) for not playing Justin’s position when he got caught up ice??

    I don’t follow. The posts above referring to his inability in the defensive zone is what really agitates ON, not the fact that he gets good scoring chances for a Dman.

    I will say, however, that with a new staff and structure, Justin could find some confidence and maybe become a true top 4 option this season. I really hope he has been hitting the weights this summer so he can at least lean on some opposition. Heres to hoping!!

  • S cottV

    The Oilers really need to stabilize the way they play as a team.

    Schultz exemplifies the nitro glycerin – unstable play, that the Oilers have been playing for far too long.

    Many times the other team will beat themselves, if only Schultz and the Oilers in general had enough patience to let it happen.

    No – lets be first to punch ourselves in the face by doing something overly offensive, at the wrong time and or in the wrong places.

    I would expect PC and McClellan to have a much tighter leash on where and when Schultz can wander.

    Schultz needs to develop a slap shot, where he can still contribute offensively – while staying put, far more often.

  • smiliegirl15

    I think we’ll see a different Schultz this year. I think McLellan will try to get him to play more in his own zone. With our top 6, we don’t really need him in front of the opposing net; we need him in front of our net.

    I have a share in season tickets! So excited for the new season. However, to afford the same seats next year, we may have to go from a group of four to a group of eight. Gonna be a lot more expensive in the new barn.

    • bradleypi

      So basically you want petry back. No offense from the point and not physical enough to clear the crease…. we all know that jultz isn’t a defensive dman yet you all seem to want him to be the next pronger or Scott Stevens. Bizarre. Pair him with sekaras and he’ll be fine. Sekaras can handle the heavy lifting on defence and Schultz can be like a rover. Lots of goals coming this year.

  • Tikkanese

    If the Oilers improve like most say they will, I bet this number drops automatically.

    I’m not saying Schultz is a perfect player by any stretch but if the Oilers are not playing behind in the score for the vast majority of games like they have been, Schultz won’t have to take as many chances offensively. I.e. this stat will automatically come down to Earth.

    He’ll be able to pick and choose when to sneak in from the slot instead of doing it every shift trying to catch up the scoreboard.

    • bradleypi

      A little bit of the chicken and the egg scenario there. Maybe if he wasn’t playing that style in the first place they wouldn’t be playing from behind.

  • bradleypi

    I think there is a misconception about Shuktz not being a shooter. It would be very interesting to see HOW many shots Shultz takes from the point that are blocked in a game. I believe Shultz attempts plenty of shots while he’s on the ice (his Corsi has been above avg the last 2 years, and I know this isn’t thensungular factor for it) but many of them are wristers that are easily blocked. I’m all for the analytics, and a lot of them said jeff Petry would have been superior to Shultz if actually used on the PP do to there shot ratios being similar despite Petrys lesser time on the special teams or at evens. But that being said, I really think many of th Coaches in the West, especially in the Pacific zoned in on the fact most of the shots Shultz takes are weaker, waist high wrist shots. A shot that worked well for him in college and the AHL, but hasn’t translated to the NHL. He always seemed to have an astounding amount of shots blocked on the PP or at evens when he shoots from the point because he almost never takes more than a wrist shot.
    I think Shultz could be an affective offensive D man while playing sheltered minutes in the NHL. But he has to figure out how to get pucks through defenders and on to the goalie from the point, and not just on grade A chances he could be cheating to get.

  • PimKing

    Every time he creeps in, the goalie creeps out and takes his angle away. Quick point shots are just as dangerous as this guys wrister from 10 feet closer.
    And not having a slapshot as a d man in the NHL is an effing joke. Most guys get a slapshot in peewee.

  • Interesting article.

    Whatever Shultz is doing, it isn’t working. With the quality of line mates he has had, especially last season, he should have a lot more points, and specifically goals.

    Hopefully McClellan can straighten him out. To be honest, I think it would be good to put him beside Sekera, and make them the second pairing. Give Klefbom and Fayne the hard minutes, and see if Shultz can hold his own on a second pairing with a quality partner. Shultz has been given too much too fast, including responsibility. Put him in a position to succeed this year. If we are going to pay him ~4 million a year, we need to try and maximize his contribution.

    This is his last chance, give him every opportunity to succeed, without throwing him in at the deep end as we have the past few seasons.