Justin Schultz, at the crossroads

19-Schultz-3

At this point in his NHL career, Justin Schultz is something of a reclamation project. He’s struggled badly at times at even-strength, burned through several different partners and even his offensive game has been criticized as the Oilers’ power play has faltered.

He’s still an important player, though. Edmonton could really use a young defenceman with a right shot and offensive skill to play big minutes this year and for most of the next decade. Can Schultz become that player, or will the Oilers have to go out and find someone else to fill the role?

McLellan’s Take

Todd McLellan

A big chunk of Edmonton coach Todd McLellan’s media availability yesterday was taken up discussion Schultz, which isn’t a surprise after an impressive showing from the defenceman in preseason play on Wednesday night. Asked what he thought of the player, McLellan made a number of points:

Fit, numbers way up from where they were last year. Strong, and that doesn’t mean fit; strong mentally and confident. Open, willing to learn and asking questions. It looked like he had good legs last night, a little bit of jump in his stride. Still learning how we want to play and learning some concepts. He’s got a dynamic skillset that we’re starting to see, so a lot of really positive things. He, like the rest of us, the coaching staff and the players, all still have to find our game and polish it up a little bit before the season starts.

That’s not an unreserved recommendation, but there are a lot of positives to take away from it. Obviously conditioning matters, not just for things like speed but also because at 6’2” and right around 200 pounds there shouldn’t be many forwards in the NHL that Schultz can’t compete with physically. Like Robin Brownlee, I’m skeptical that Schultz is going to be physically aggressive over the long haul but there’s no reason he can’t improve in that area.

McLellan, in addressing the question of Schultz’s importance to the team, acknowledged that he’s not expecting Schultz to morph into a banger:

[He is a] very important player, very important piece. We talked about apples and oranges yesterday; he’s different than a lot of other players. He can skate, move the puck, he jumps in. There’s some dynamic offensive skills that he has; he scored that goal last night [by] jumping in and having good timing. He brings a lot to the table that way. Would we like him to defend better? Of course we would, but that can be said for Taylor, Jordan and we’ll talk about Connor at some point during the year doing that. We’d like him to improve in that area. The interesting thing for me is that everyone around here talks around here a lot about his strength and his conditioning – his numbers have gone way up – but for me his strength is between his ears. We should be playing towards that a little, positioning himself properly. Nick Lidstrom didn’t go into the corner to kill guys, he went into the corner to contain guys and take the puck away from them and initiate the breakout. I’m not saying Justin is Nick Lidstrom, but they both have different strengths. Gryba’s physical. Schultz, he’s a smart player, he should be using his mind and his positioning as much as his physical tools.

That reference to apples and oranges refers to an earlier comment in which McLellan stressed the need for players with different skills on the same roster. Certainly there’s a niche open for Schultz, not only because he’s a right side defenceman but also because it’s easy to imagine his skill set as complementary to Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse or Griffin Reinhart. None of those players project as offensive difference makers. 

For a Limited Time…

19-Schultz-1

I’ve expressed skepticism that Schultz will ever emerge as a particularly reliable player five-on-five, with the reason being that the Oilers simply haven’t had very good results when he’s out there. In terms of scoring chances, Edmonton routinely has been better off with Schultz on the bench rather than on the ice, even though Schultz plays a disproportionate number of his shifts with the club’s best forwards.

It would be a mistake to ignore contrary evidence, though, and it does exist. It’s a fact that Schultz has been better early in seasons; on the whole the Oilers’ on-ice scoring chance ratio is more than two points better with Schultz on the ice in the first half of the year than it has been in the second. That’s not entirely on Schultz, but given that he’s coming out of the college game (where they play a shorter schedule) it’s not something that should be ignored. He’s shown flashes (particularly with Klefbom last season) and his physical tools are obvious to any eyeball test. 

He’s also been good early in this year’s training camp, though of course it’s important not to read too much into that.

The important factors here are that the Oilers have a new general manager, a new head coach, and that Schultz is on a single-season deal. There’s a hole in Edmonton’s long-term plans that is roughly Schultz-sized, and if he plays well early he could force his way into it and make things much easier for the team. If he doesn’t play well early, Edmonton doesn’t really have the luxury of hoping that he’ll eventually turn the corner; the team will need to go shopping for someone else to fill its needs on the right side.

Entering 2015-16, Schultz finds himself at a crossroads. He can keep going in the same direction he’s traveled for the last few years, a direction with no happy destination. Or he can turn the corner, and start becoming the defenceman the Oilers thought they were getting when they signed him to much fanfare in the summer of 2012. 

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • BloodyEyes13

    I’m going to have to start listening to McLellan’s press conferences…seems like a smart guy who knows how to publicly talk about players so they are confident. I couldn’t bear hearing Eakins.

    I’m hopeful Schultz can play like he did last game throughout the season. I was at the game and thought he was excellent.

    It really is amazing what a little strength conditioning can do, both in ability and in confidence…I know when I was deadlifting big weights I was taking no crap from nobody!

    • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

      “I know when I was deadlifting big weights I was taking no crap from nobody!”

      If you take “No Crap from Nobody” will you take Some crap from somebody?

      • Spydyr

        Yes, when I read that I kept thinking of the old John Wayne movies “I ain’t never going to take no crap from nobody never no more”. By the time you had worked out the quadruple negative the plot had moved on. Just hoping that JShultz ain’t never going to Jultz not never again.

  • BloodyEyes13

    So what McLellan is saying is that Schultz has been mishandled and poorly coached by the previous coaches and management …..who would have thought !!

  • BloodyEyes13

    Pump and Dump!!! Let’s hope he can fool some people into thinking he’s a decent Dman so we can maybe get the Petry return for him at the deadline

  • BloodyEyes13

    Well not only MacT. alluded to a Norris trophy candidate is Schultz , but also Hall just recently on Oilers.com . In a nutshell , Schultz has the skillset of a Norris trophy candidate . He goes on to say he’ll not be a physical force , but he does other things to more than compensate for it . Hall seems to claim Schultz is turning a new confidence into the type of player they felt he would become . Looks like he has arrived people , and his confidence and poise is showing well this early season . He is not a Scott Stevens type and never will be , but he could become a Karlsson type this season . Players seem have faith in him , and his high end abilities . Definitely trending toward top 2 .

    • Joy S. Lee

      Really? He’s arrived? The new Erik Karlsson, eh?

      Edmonton’s fanbase has the greatest mood swings in the NHL. Gotta be. Schultz is now Erik Karlsson, look out, NHL!!!

      You know, after a couple of exhibition games, I can see how one might get exuberant, but the past seven or eight years ought to temper expectations just a little…

      …or NOT.

      • hagar

        Agreed. Karlson… Lmfao!! One single good game, and his name is spoken in the same potential as probably the best dman in the league in my opinion..

        I am an oiler fan, but I can see why we are the joke of the league.

        The entire world knows the oilers have proven nothing but suck.. but we have fans that claim epic awesome at the first sign of anything positive year after year.

        Shultz has been nothing but a turd the entire time he has played here until one pre-season game ago.

        It’s absolutely crazy the way lots of you guys act on a random whim.

        How about just letting things happen after all these changes, without asking for Mcdavid to father you children, and thinking the biggest disappointment hired by Mact besides NN is now some stud dman?

        Way to play a good game FINALLY Shultz! It makes up for your wasted contract until now!! Good work guy!!

  • I was trying to think of a comparable player to Schultz that has won a cup and Tomas Kaberle came to mind. Interestingly Kaberle won with Chiarelli’s Bruins. However, his offense was still reasonably superior to Schultz’.

    Has any team ever won a cup with a soft, defensively marginal, and only above average offensive defenceman? I am hoping to be enlightened.

    I like Schultz, but I just don’t see him as part of the team that will bring Lord Stanley back to Edmonton.

    • ziyan94

      I am not comparing schultz to them but 2 defenceman that come to mind are Brian Leetch and Nick Lidstrom. Neither were physical but both were able to use stick and positioning to eliminate a threat and separate the puck from the man. iF Schultz can maintain,AND LEARN, and at least be willing to engage the body he can definitely trend upwards towards these two.

      • Leetch is another interesting one for sure.

        Lidstrom, Kaberle, and Leetch were all superior offensively, and Leetch and Lidstrom in particular were great defensively as well.

        I am still seeing Kaberle as the best comparison, soft and not great defensively, but better than Schultz offensively.

        I think the highest potential for Schultz as an Oiler is as a trade piece.

    • The Real Scuba Steve

      There was this one team that would bring in a one dimensional puck moving Defenseman every year for their cup runs such as a Norm Maciver or Reijo Routseilainen, and they seemed to have a bit of success with it.

      The key has always been in Defensive pairings, a Defenseman such as Shultz is never going to bring you wonderful shut down Defense on his own, but with the right pairing I believe it can be achieved. Fortunately for Shultz the incoming Oilers Defenseman almost all match well with him, Klefbom and Rheinhart especially.

      • MacIver never won a cup as he did not play for the Oilers in their playoff run in 1990 (regular season only).

        Ruotsalainen is a good comparable, but his 0.77 ppg is again better than Schultz’ 0.44.

        What’s interesting about Ruotsalainen is that he was also used as a forward, which many have suggested should be Schultz’ fate.

  • freelancer

    It would be a great story for this kid to turn things around. Like you said, he doesn’t have to be a big banger, that isn’t his game. But you don’t have to be that player to stand up for your teammates or to go to the tougher areas on the ice.

    If Schultz can be a guy who plays on your mid to bottom pairing, puts up 30+ points and is no longer associated with the term Jultz well I think that’s a realistic expectation.

  • Spydyr

    If Schultz plays like it matters and he gives a crap, does not look to make sure his skates are tied every scrum.Plays physical, he does not have to destroy his man just take the body. Win some battles in the corners,toughen up in front of the net, stand up for his goalie not looking to the Ref to make the call. He would be on the right road.

    • For Pete's Sake!

      Great comment Spydyr. It’s fine that Schultz has done this for just “two” preseason games.

      If I see him playing like this in March when we’re making a run for the playoffs, I might start to believe in him.

      If we somehow actually make the playoffs and he still keeps playing “like it matters,” then I will become a believer.

      It’s way too early to jump on the Justin bandwagon!

  • #97TRAIN

    This will be JS’s year – one way or the other. New team, new coaches, new GM = new start….this is his chance to prove he belongs in this league, or not. He has all the physical skills. Coached properly maybe he can be a top 4 or even top 2. IF he can be top 4 competitive then with all the other long term D assets we have (Reihart, Nurse, Klefbom) we have the makings of a highly competitive D.

    Go Justin! Fingers crossed.

  • hagar

    It’s too bad the new coaching change corresponds with his last year before contract renewal. Sure would be nice to know for sure which one is more important to him.

  • Harry2

    If Schultz plays well what can we expect in terms of a contract? I would like to see a max 3 year deal. I dont think hea earned a longer deal.

    Also good to see MacLellan lump Hall and Ebs in with Schultz when it comes to players who need to be better defensively

    • Harry2

      If he can have a good year, and learn to play the game, I would not have a problem locking him in long term. His poor play in the past, is not for a lack of trying, I am sue of that.

      If he has a good year (Top 4 D-man good), and 40+ points. I would try and lock him in for 6 years 4 million/year. Sell him on the Klefbom-Shultz thing for 6 more seasons.

      Of course that is only if he plays well enough to deserve the 4 million this season.

      The way I see it, he owes the Oilers some chash for the last couple of seasons.

      • Harry2

        Of course. It was more of a hypothetical question.

        Is JS bags 15 goals and 25+ assists and tightens up his defensive game then I think he’ll be looking for 4.5 – 6 per.

    • For Pete's Sake!

      I totally agree with the second part of your comment here Harry.

      Hall and Ebs have played at their forward positions just as wimpy as Schultz has at defense for the last couple of years.

      It’s just not as noticible at forward.

      It’s time for all three of them to start playing “like it matters.”

  • hagar

    A defenseman his partner , the winger in front of him and the support from the centre, create the defensive structure.

    RHD need,

    a consistent partner – Klefbom for Shultz

    RW back checking support – 14,10, 16 must improve

    Centre need to get down low – we have 4 NHL centers this year.

    Shultz, Fayne, Petry (2014 RHD) all struggled last year… In part because the structure was not evident.

  • Harry2

    Shultz will be Schultz, I don’t understand what people are hoping for? He’ll put up modest offensive numbers, make bad passes out of the zone, get walked around a lot, and get worse as the level of competition improves… This should surprise anyone as we go along here

    • #97TRAIN

      People do make huge changes in careers .I have seen it time and time again. I’m thinking that McLellan just sees the game on a simpler level than most others do.
      He strips away all the bull crap and starts using guys to their strengths and puts them in positions to succeed . I think we are on the verge of witnessing that right now with Schultz.

      • Harry2

        Well, I hope you’re right. I’m not gonna buy into after one game against the Manitoba moose tho! btw, Did anyone see that suicide pass/turnover to Draisaitl?

        If the guy turns it around I’ll eat crow, but I wanna see it for at least 60 games before I go hunt for a crow. There’s very little doubt in my mind that he’ll show his spots.

        And if he does happen to play decent this season, im willing to bet he’ll be a Yandle type Dman(but not as good) and completely disappear in intense games and playoffs.

  • Harry2

    He is the 4-5 defencemen.

    3 years for 3-3.25 million if he shows well.

    Showing well being 25+ pts and much better defensive play in his own zone.

    Otherwise the future top 4 is projecting as Sekera, Klefbom, Nurse, Reinhart in no specific order.

    Future cap is going to be tricky, I would not want to take a long term gamble on someone like Schultz.

  • S cottV

    Shultz has over reached from the beginning as an Oiler.

    Trying to hit a home run on a long term contract that would have put him at a similar level with Hall and RNH.

    It crapped out on him.

    He should have been better managed by all who directly support him. Self, Agent, Parents, GM, Coaches.

    Instead he gets guidance like a bone head GM – labeling him as a future Norris winner.

    Geez – that only served to get Schultz over reaching even more.

    Schultz is the worst “game management” player on the team.

    The good news? Seems like McClellan is going to do something about it.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    I will assume that the following will get a lot of thrashes but it has to be said.

    Eakins.

    People always mention that Eakins had a long of impact on the decrease in growth and production of the organization.

    I believe that Eakins had the most impact on the regression of J.Schultz.

  • ziyan94

    It’s clear that Schultz has been atrocious defensively in the past, but this year will be different for him because the team doesn’t need him to play top-pairing minutes. The pressure’s still there with this year being a contract year, but he’ll be less fatigued as the season goes on, which will have a HUGE impact on his performance.

  • For Pete's Sake!

    Meh, I still think they should have traded or let him walk and used the money on Franson. It’s not like Franson went to a contender or anything.

    But having said that, I can imagine that a player who could have literally picked any team, was probably pretty dissapointed with the results of the last three years.

    I really don’t think we can discount the mental fatigue being out of it by November would have on a player. Then for management to basically say, that’s what we’re gonna do again next year, if it were me, I wouldn’t be killing myself.

    And you can say, well that’s on players like Schultz. But starting last year with no second line C, and big holes at D and in goal, you can imagine how the song would get old.

    Maybe, just maybe, Schultz is fired up again and looking to play his best. Maybe he wants to win and believes this team can do it.

  • BobbyCanuck

    Justin is a me first player, not a team first kind of guy, if he was, he would have just shut up and signed with the team that originally drafted him.

    Unless his brain has done a 180, I do not think he will be around for the whole season.

  • Dirtski

    Lest we forget Jultz amidst the bandwagon hopping. I’m beginning to think he has some serious blackmail/bribery on Katz that’s tricked down or he’s part of some mind controlling Illuminati. We all hope with him but years of evidence point the other direction. TMacs a good couch and has to say these things, hopefully he turns him around, but I am doubtful.

  • Dirtski

    Better coaching and handling of Shultz plus having him paired with a potential stud like Klefbom will make him a top 4 d-man. If that doesn’t happen then all Shultz needs to do is look in the mirror if he is wondering why he is being perceived as a NHL dud.

  • Dirtski

    Very good article by JW. He makes a very telling point when he states that Schultz has achieved better results in the first half of the season compared to the last half.

    Schultz has been over used and under coached. He has TOI of over 20 minutes per game and has played like a top pairing D man. In fact, he is being played too much against too good a level of competition. If TMac can play him like a 3rd pairing D man Schultz will get much better results.

  • Dirtski

    Toddy Mac knows how to relay the message to his players and the media. How the hell is Mac T still working with the Oil? He was the one who hired the most pathetic man in hockey after all..Just sayin..

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    With the new coaching/management, I would give Shultz a fairly clean slate.

    It’s not only how Chia is handling the players and traning camp that I think is going to make a large difference, overall team attitude is going to improve.

    There are so many bad factors that could be attributed to Jusin’s second half numbers. I don’t think the college schedule one as much as being out of the playoffs so early, plus playing defense with a team that doesn’t care to play defense has have a negative effect.

    I’m not saying Justin is going to turn it all around. I’ll wait and see with that but right now it’s looking pretty good.

  • ” a disproportionate number of his shifts with the club’s best forwards.”

    I laughed at this statement while speculating on who those “best” forwards are and how inept they are in the end that involves Justin making an outlet pass.

    Poor kid.

    • Joy S. Lee

      Blaming those forwards seems reasonable in a sense, but please don’t give Schultz a free pass…he hasn’t earned it. Goes the other way, too: those “best” forwards are the most gifted and talented and skilled players on this hockey team. If I were Schultz (literally), I’d want to be with those guys to showcase my own skills. But it would be up to me (and them) to make it work.

      It hasn’t worked, to date. Here’s hoping some decent coaching will change that, but the players couldn’t figure it out for themselves, I do know that.

  • For Pete's Sake!

    He doesn’t need to be perfect, just better.

    Either he improves enough that he’s a cornerstone piece of this team, or enough that the Oilers can get something tangible for him on the trade market.

    I remain positive about him ending up as either one of these things.

  • For Pete's Sake!

    Oilers not dressing Hall, McDavid, Eberle, Nugent Hopkins, Klefbom, Schultz and Talbot. In other words there not dressing the core for tonights game. Get used to it BradleyPi.
    I recommend Schultz 6 x 6 = 36 contract extension.