Justin Schultz will be back in the lineup soon, possibly as early as tomorrow night in Detroit. There are several questions facing Edmonton’s young puck mover, and the answers are very important to the Oilers future.
WHO DOES HE REPLACE?
The early question, the Friday one, comes in the form of transactions and lineup changes. My guesses are Griffin Reinhart gets sent out and Eric Gryba moves to the pressbox, but that isn’t a slam dunk. Unique among recent Oilers head coaches, Todd McLellan’s moves tend to be less about the obvious choice and more about finding out about the team. We’ll see what happens, and while I’m at it let me suggest the ideal spot for Schultz in his first games is third pairing with Brandon Davidson. Let him force his way up the roster, on merit.
HOW WILL MCLELLAN USE HIM?
Todd McLellan’s first 20 games as Oilers coach included a lot of ‘taking things out for a test drive’ and that includes Justin Schultz. An example: Let’s compare Todd McLellan’s usage of Schultz in zones against the young defender’s handling a year ago. Information below from War-on-Ice:
- 2015-16 D-Zone starts: 48
- 2015-16 N-Zone starts: 53
- 2015-16 O-Zone starts: 27
Taking all into account, Schultz’s offensive zone starts represent 21% of his overall usage. I’d argue that Todd McLellan is toying with the idea of Schultz as ‘skilled puck mover and passer out of our zone’ and giving him more defensive zone starts. Let’s look at the previous season:
- 2014-15 D-Zone starts: 315
- 2014-15 N-Zone starts: 567
- 2014-15 O-Zone starts: 533
Dallas Eakins and Todd Nelson gave Schultz a ZS push, as his offensive zone starts in 2014-15 represented 37.6% of his overall total. I’m looking forward to seeing how this rolls over the rest of the season.
HOW IS HE DEPLOYED IN TOI?
Another area I’ll be watching is deployment of ice-time. In what situations will Todd McLellan use Schultz? Will he see the power play as much as one year ago? More? Here’s what we have so far:
- 2015-16 EV TOI: 16:22 per game
- 2015-16 PP TOI: 3:20 per game
- 2015-16 PK TOI: 2:03 per game
Interesting. Schultz is playing a substantial amount in all three disciplines. Let’s compare that to last season’s numbers:
- 2014-15 EV TOI: 19:28 per game
- 2014-15 PP TOI: 2:47 per game
- 2014-15 PK TOI: 0:20 per game
Last season, Schultz received three more minutes at even strength and almost no time on the PK. Todd McLellan seems to be using his speed for offense and for defense—and it’s important to know that. If Peter Chiarelli is going to pay Schultz $5 million or more next season on a long-term deal, his actual value needs to be well documented and understood by McLellan.
Can he win a championship with Justin Schultz in a feature role?
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
EDM and Schultz settle one year at $3.9M
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) July 15, 2015
I think the future of Schultz is wide open at this time. The Oilers could trade him, sign him long term, sign him to another one year deal, and yes, if he chooses arbitration they could let him walk. All that said, I think the new management wants to get a lot out of this season, including a very long look at Schultz:
Peter Chiarelli: “He’s a
player that I don’t have really strong knowledge of. Saw him in college.
Saw him in the lockout in the American League. Saw him in bits and
pieces with Edmonton, maybe a little more this past year, whether it’s
video or otherwise. He’s got a lot of assets, like puck skills, passing,
skating. He’s been labelled sometimes as a rover and that’s more
negative than positive in my mind, but the fact that he’s up the ice
with the forwards is a good thing. That’s something that we would preach
here. It’s about defending, about being the proper position and if
you’re not strong enough to defend, let’s talk about positional
defending, stick defending. He has to get better at that.” Source
We’re about to find out about Justin Schultz, Edmonton Oilers defensemen. I think Todd McLellan is going to find things he likes. Will it be enough? We wait.
(Cover photo by Rob Ferguson, all rights reserved).