As Goes Schultz

The Friday night debacle was a reminder that the Oilers are
still a developing team. It was painful to watch, almost embarrassing. This is
a team only a few months removed from finishing 28th in the NHL. As
the team continues to be shaped by McLellan and Chiarelli, it is also changing
along with the young players who are growing as NHLers. Chief among them,
Justin Schultz.

Yes, Connor McDavid will be the tide that raises all ships,
but the last game really highlighted where the Oilers stand if Justin Schultz
struggles. This is a team that very much relies on the offensive-minded
defender, no matter how that makes the bloggers feel.

As of writing this, Justin Schultz is leading the team in
ice time at more than 23 minutes per game. That’s almost three minutes more than
the next Oiler. He is not a side character in the story of this club. He is a
central figure.

And Todd McLellan isn’t the only one to have played him well
ahead of other options. He has lead the Oilers in TOI/G in every season he’s
played in the NHL except his rookie campaign when he finished second.
He has certain skills that have made him an attractive option to veteran and
rookie coaches alike. Maybe the most important is how he moves on the ice. He
is a mobile defender in an NHL that requires it and on a club with a defense
that has struggled to move around the ice.

This season more than ever the young defender has been
involved in every aspect of the game. He was an offensive specialist who played
a mountain of minutes on the PP and at evens but was kept as far away from the
PK as humanly possible. Last year he averaged just 20 seconds per game on the penalty kill. Brad Hunt (!) averaged twice that much in Oiler silks. Only
Oesterle played less 4v5 per game than Schultz. He was the 12th
option on defense.

Under McLellan his PK time has ballooned to 2:19 per game
which is the second highest on the defense behind only Oscar Klefbom.
Before the game against the Caps the Oilers had the top ranked PK efficiency. I
would love to report that it’s being driven by a reduced number of shots/shot
attempts with Schultz & Klefbom on the ice but it does look goalie driven
so far. Still, it’s only eight games into the season and this is a new discipline
for Schultz.

On the power play he continues to lead the Oilers in PP TOI/G. He’s playing 3:37 per game on the PP, often as the only defender on the ice. He’s absolutely integral to the 5v4 attack right now. Andrej Sekera is a distant second at 2:19 per game.

At even strength Schultz is also leading the Oilers in TOI/G at 17:15. Though, in this game state the Oilers are much more evenly distributed. Still, there’s no denying that McLellan and his staff has made Schultz the focal point of the defense just as previous coaching staffs have done before him. Perhaps because he added the PK duties McLellan has made him even more integral to the success of the team.

Early in the season we all noted how much more aggressive on
the puck he looked. It wasn’t just about hitting someone or pairing up in a
scrum instead of skating away. It was about battling for open pucks and being
assertive in his own end. The change was welcome but Friday was a reminder that
this new Schultz isn’t here full-time yet.

We’re 211 games into his NHL career and inching ever closer
to that vaunted 300 game mark when we should have a much more clear idea of
what the end product for this blueliner should be. The evolution of Justin
Schultz is integral to the success of the Oilers. Todd McLellan has added new
duties to Schultz’ plate. He was a key member of the defense before, now I don’t
know if there’s a player on the team right now who will be more impactful to
the club’s success than number 19.

NHL teams succeed from the goaltender outwards. Logging the
most minutes overall, number one at evens, number one on the power play, and number two on the PK, the puck goes through Schultz first before it makes its way to the
forwards. He is the key to the attack.

As he succeeds, the team succeeds. As he fails, the team
fails.

  • The Soup Fascist

    So ……

    Justin Schultz is the key to the Oilers success.

    Justin Trudeau is preparing to lead our country.

    Justin Bieber is the face of music in Canada.

    This Just in ……..

    We are screwed.

      • The Soup Fascist

        The truth is Arch is 100% correct in this article. A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link and our defence as a group is weak. So in order for the team to improve the defence corps must show the greatest gains.

        The focus is on Schultz as the minute leader. I actually think he is trying to improve. He worked out like a madman all summer and put on some muscle. He seems to be focused on being more physical.

        The problem is he is miscast as a number one D man. He will have a much better career as a support mid pairing guy. Petry was in a similar situation. He is playing well in a system where Subban is the big dog. Schultz can be a decent 3 to 5 D-man when he figures things out.

        He will never be the leading minute muncher on a good team, IMO.

      • The Soup Fascist

        Unless you are the moderator, you have several choices.

        1. Ignore my comment

        2. Trash my comment

        3. Respond to my comment.

        Telling me what I am allowed to put in my comment is NOT one of your options.

  • PimKing

    Matt, your blogs are excellent. Shultz is what he is, and I feel a valuable asset. I also cringe at time watching mistakes, but this is who we have. He is a product of a team that does not have enough defensive depth so Shultz, you’re up buddy.
    I hear the call to trade him. Maybe. Or how about just help him. Under the past coaches has his game really grown much in the NHL? I expect we keep him and like others he benefits from present coaching to an improved player by end of 2016.

  • TheBirdOfAnger

    I used to hate Schultz. I couldn’t even get excited when I met the guy. But. It’s one game. I’m sure he’ll bounce back. I think it’s pretty evident he’s trying hard to be better for the team and I welcome that.
    Hopefully soon he’ll be consistent with his game.

  • Himynameistaylor

    A very interesting view. His shots per game seem much lower. Despite his high utilization they are not having jump down to shot as much as in previous years. His offense seems more about jumping down on rushes Orin support and as a puck distributor

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    Dear ON: remember the new GM stating something to the effect of they’re examining everything? In a year they ain’t winning why wouldn’t you throw the short kids in the deep end of the pool and see what happens and make changes based on what you see – not what your pre-conceived ideas/notions/understandings are so you can make changes based on tangible result. TM telegraphed what they’re seeing and it wasn’t the first time he’s said it this year. That’s a big tell in just how long certain players will live in certain shoes.

  • camdog

    Some advanced stats bloggers are now saying that bloggers have misinterpreted the numbers in respect to measuring d-man’s abilities. Apparently the numbers did lie.

    The most important stat is TOI. The Oilers have gone through 3 separate coaches and multiple GM’s and the only consistent is that Schultz is still getting his minutes. The reason – well the other d-man just aren’t that good.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    it’s okay guys back in the Pierre Trudeau Era, the oilers won well (sorta) and now it’s the start of the Justin Trudeau Era and that will mean…

    the 80’s will come back!

    jk this is probably the dumbest thing I said so far

    wishing we still had Petry

  • For Pete's Sake!

    Thanks for another great article Arch.

    Any team’s best defenseman is usually the key to how well they play. Badger Bob Johnson and any good coach knows that.

    I remember when Badger Bob told his Calgary Flames team to key on Paul Coffey and hit him every chance they got in the 1986 series between the Oilers and Flames. The Flames wore the Oilers down and beat them in seven games in that series and keying on Coffey was a key element to that win.

    Same thing happened in the 1974 cup final when Philadelphia beat a superior Boston Bruins team by keying on and hitting Bobby Orr every chance they got.

    Like it or not, five Oiler coaches have now decided that Schultz is the best defenseman on this team. Fans may not agree but these coaches can’t all be wrong.

    Until Chiarelli can swing a deal for a better top pairing D-man, Schultz is it and as he goes so go the Oilers.

    Our only hope for this season is that McLellan and his staff seem to have been successful in getting Schultz to play better most of the time. Let’s hope that keeps up but it’s a pretty thin string to run your defense on.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    justin is showing he is not very good at anything. He is just ok as an offensive D-man, but not great 5×5 and wining puck battles. Basically we can almost confirm now justin is NOT a top pairing Dman that MacT feels he is. We need to replace his minutes with someone that can be that player. We should be using Sekera in justins role for now until someone is traded for or develops into that player.

      • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

        justin nice that you are defending yourself posting here. you are not having a good year already. Your advance stats look horrible already. You are giving way to many grade a chance to the opposition infront of your net. You can’t seems to generate any offense when your on the ice. 1 point in 8 games. You sucked on the PP with your muffin shot from the point and that is why our PP sucks. Yet you are gifted the most minutes on the PP. Also while we are at it win some puck battles and don’t be a pansy out there. Another thing, make better reads when teams are entering our zone, you are getting turned around like a turnstall and embarrassing yourself.

        I was hoping you would be better with TMac as the new coach but you will never be the Norris trophy Dman that Mact thinks you are. same $hit with different coach.

  • S cottV

    Don Cherry could fill an entire Christmas dvd on gifts that Schultz has given to opposing teams, since being an Oiler.

    Oilers need stability in the way they play, if they are ever to start winning consistently.

    Shultz is about as unstable as it gets.

    The limited offensive upside (no heavy slapper from the point on pp) is not worth the laughable flip side.

  • RaWbbie

    Justin needs to work on rushing the puck right in for shot with the forwards,he needs a winger to respond to a verbal to drop back for him so he can stay on extended puck pursuits and dig for his own rebounds.

    A lot of guys covered for Coffey on a lot of nights.Sather demanded it.Mac-L?

    He isnt being fed these types on minutes for naught….he just needs some puck luck, I think his hands are good enough to ask him to close it to the net and bury it.

    • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

      I really think much of what you say is true. The biggest things which has hurt his growth IMO was the previous coach and statements By MacT which allowed him to think he had arrived. Now the issue will be if we give him big min because he is the best of a sad lot we may end up paying him as a #1 D-man when he may not be one. The problem is we have such a short time to see what this coach can turn him in to and the min he is playing will demand 5+ Million per.

  • RaWbbie

    Jultz is being pumped to dump. Make him appear better than he is and unload him (maybe in a package) to get a real NHL player… obviously a defender. I see some value in him but his lack of intensity, physicality, and overall interest is not apparent or deserving enough for his minutes. He is and was mis-cast; not his fault admittedly, but he is the best option at the time and does not come close to a legitimate top 4 NHL defender.
    He reminds me of Patrick O’Sullivan… the kid that hates hockey. He looks like he has ZERO fun out there.
    Not a fan, never will be. Too soft and too disinterested.
    Next.

  • PimKing

    He simply needs to be more tenacious on the puck. Is he not getting enough $$$ or what. He doesnt bleed copper and blue is the issue here. i mean how long can you wait for a guy to just simply engage in the game 100%. Really trying not to be pesimistic here but in no way shape or form is this guy supposed to be getting your big minutes. Guarantee not a soul in the league fears what Justin Schultz can do. No #1 D man takes wrist shots from the point like he can score shelf. Sorry bud maybe Ovechkin and Stamkos have that good of a wrister, you sir do not! Shoot low and maybe someone will tip in your $hit show once in a while. Now my wife is wondering if F*$#ing Schultz is related to F*$#ing Hemsky.

    Play Harder!!!You’ll be tougher to play against!Get in a fight, you’re not made of glass! This is the NHL, time to put on the foil.

  • camdog

    We are about a 10th of the way through the schedule and the oilers outside of Calgary, haven’t really played a team that should be a check mark win. That’s what happens when you are brutal, and the team plays in the heavily possession orientated Western conference. Shot metrics have this team below where Eakins had them last year, but when you play NSH, STL*2 and DAL in the first 4 games along with WSH, that is going to happen.

    The next 8 games are big for the oilers. Real big. This team has chosen to live an die with Jultz as it’s number 1 d man through Eakins and that did not bold well.

    Right now Shultz has 1 assist in 8 games. His scoring chance numbers are OK (according to David Staples), but his shots on goal are still lagging (16SOG) considering the fact he’s playing almost 23 minutes a night. Numbers suggested last season Petry was much better at getting the puck on net from the blue line despite playing less minutes and getting virtually no PP time.

    This team needs another D man with top 4 capability more than anything right now. They need a puck mover, someone that can break up the cycle, and most importantly, provide some sort of offense from the back end. Despite what Shultz is billed as, he has never been a big points producer. He’s never broken the 10 goal mark, and he doesn’t possess a shot that is strong enough as a wrister to make it through the aggressive shot blocking of NHL teams.

    Darnell Nurse may be the teams answer in the long run. I am assuming he at least gets 40 games here this season. He’s most likely a superior player to Davidson, Ference and Gryba.

    Im at the point though now where I’d like to see Darnell get a shot up in the bigs. I think the oilers are at a pretty crucial point in the season, and if he makes the team better, why not play him? He’s had 2+ years in junior and is already dominating the AHL from a possession stand point.

    I think the Oilers could use him. Despite Shultz not having played 300 games yet, he’s proven in the first 200 + that he probably isn’t more than a descent complimentary offensive piece playing in mid pairing with a strong partner.

    • Soiled Trousers

      I find this line of reasoning to common this year. “Well of course the Oilers lost, they played good teams.” In a way I guess it makes sense. If the Oilers played in the TimBits peewee tournament they would be the champs. Unfortunately the Oilers play in the NHL. If the Oilers are going to ever make the playoffs they have to beat playoff caliber teams. I don’t feel like I’m saying anything really radical here but I’m sure the trashes will be plentiful.

  • Soiled Trousers

    If he is, and he may be, the number one defense man on this team, then it kind of explains the sad state of the Oiler defense .

    End of story!

    On a contending team ,at best, he plays 2nd pairing [ No.4 guy]. His weaknesses over rule his strong play two to one.

    My theory is that the only reason he is still on the team is that during the shiny marble chase [4 yrs ago], Katz laid down the law ” don’t come home without him”!Can you go against the boss’s wishes.?

  • TheBirdOfAnger

    Grading our defence : Schultz gets better as Klefbom gets better . Klefbom is very young and still making rookie mistakes that influence the pairing , not just a still young Schultz . Offensive defenseman we have very little of beyond the two of them . Nurse has yet to even crack lineup and it seems evident they are not sold on him offensively , and more importantly defensively . Sekara and Fayne are still working out the kinks in their pairing , and should get better and command more time . even the are struggling for now . Gryba has performed well on third pairing most nights and has had several partners to deal with . We need stellar goaltending until such time as all 3 pairings develop more familiarity and chemistry with their partners and the offense at both ends of ice . Reinhart has not played enough to know just where he might fit in as yet .

  • srelio

    3 coaches play Schultz lots b/c he’s the best they’ve got. And for 3 coaches, they’ve got the worst D in the league.

    If Schultz is ur best dman, ur a bottom 5 team.

    Will he get good enough? I can’t remember a current top pairing D that didn’t at least show some signs after 200 games. If he is good someday, his development path will be a first.

  • Canoe Ride 27.1

    I don’t think is here next year no matter how well he plays. Even when he’s playing well he’s not worth a multi-year deal for $4 million per year.

    What drives me CRAZY is when he chases the opponents dump-in behind the net and proceedz to take his sweet-a** time as if there’s no hurry. 80% of the time he turns it over to the forechecker.

  • camdog

    I hope you are wrong about Schultz being our best D man. If thats the case we are always going to have the worst defense in the NHL. This guy is a bunch of mistakes on skates. I hope McLelland realizes he is not worth pursuing, and his time with Oilers is done.
    He loses pucks continually on the PP can not protect the blue line, basically useless.