Justin Schultz, NHL Defenceman


Justin Schultz can speak firsthand to both the joys and perils of playing in a hockey mad city. He arrived in Edmonton by choice and with much fanfare, a top NHL defensive prospect that had opted to spurn Anaheim and pass on his choice of destination in order to join the Oilers. It’s been hard to have a balanced discussion about the player ever since.

These days, though, the imbalance tends to run the other way. If Schultz spent his evenings kicking puppies and stealing candy from orphans I’m not sure it would be possible for his stature among fans of the Edmonton Oilers to fall any lower than it is right now.

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There are good points to Schultz’s game.

The man has offensive ability, albeit not ability he’s showing this season. Over his career he’s scored 0.77 points/hour at even-strength, which is basically what one would expect from a No. 3 defenceman; that’s above-average production and it compares favourably with people like Andrei Markov and Jay Bouwmeester. He’s been up and down on a mostly bad Edmonton power play, but his numbers at five-on-four are basically second unit material. That’s not ideal, but it’s also not like the Oilers’ other defenceman have been ripping it up on the man advantage.

Schultz is, for the first time in his career, being asked to start his fair share (and then some) of shifts in the defensive zone. When he’s been on the ice this year the Oilers results have been no better and no worse in terms of scoring chances, and they’ve actually been a bit better by most of the shot metrics. When we look at shot location, Edmonton has been slightly better at generating shots from dangerous areas with Schultz on the ice than with him off, and in terms of shots against there’s no big variation except that the Oilers allow fewer point shots against.

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He’s certainly had some high-profile gaffes, and his offence drying up has made it easy to ask what it is exactly that he does. But it’s always dangerous to read too much into those high-profile gaffes, which represent a small fraction of total players, and the offence going away is a new and likely temporary thing.

One might argue (as I do) that Schultz is paid too much money for what he does; one might further argue (again, as I do) that given the makeup of Edmonton’s defence and the number of players with contracts extending beyond this year that moving on from Schultz is the right thing to do.

But the amount of displeasure these days seems disproportionate when compared to the actual amount of damage done. It’s not unlike the situation a player from the Oilers not-too-distant past found himself in near the end of his time in Edmonton.

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Tom Poti

Poti, Tom

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Schultz had some wobbly bits, but the Oilers were asking more of him and he did his best to deliver. The young man is in the ‘get Tom Poti out of here’ era with the fanbase, this is the ugly side of Edmonton hockey. I sat in the stands with my boy as Oilers fans showered Poti with boos, suspect some young fan will experience the same thing with Schultz in the coming days.

Allan Mitchell a couple of days ago

There are more than a few parallels between Poti and Schultz.

When Poti was ultimately dealt to the Rangers in March of 2002 (Rem ‘the Gem’ Murray went with him, Mike York and a pick came back) it was after he was all but run out of town. The 25-year-old Poti was a college defenceman in his fourth major-league season and with 285 games of NHL experience. He was a primarily finesse defender with some offensive ability. At the time of the trade Poti had a single goal after scoring 12 the previous year. The bad things he did drove people nuts, the new shine had worn off, and the faltering offence was the final nail in the coffin.

The thing worth remembering about Poti is that when his NHL career finally came to an end—an NHL career which, we should note, was cut short by injury—he’d played 824 games in all. He kept playing NHL hockey for nine seasons after leaving the Oilers, and again if not for injury might have played more.

Poti was held in even less esteem among Oilers fans at the time of his trade than Schultz (25 years old, fourth major-league season, 229 games of NHL experience) is now. Like Schultz, he had some offensive ability; like Schultz he saw the points stop coming at a time when he needed to be making forward strides.

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The Oilers got value for Poti in trade; York could play and he eventually turned into Michael Peca. That value wasn’t misplaced, either; Poti continued to play in the NHL for years after. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the same ends up being true of Schultz.

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  • pkam

    Buff is the dman we need at the moment. Plus the fans would love a monster that hits plays a lot is fast and puts up points. Yandal would make us have to listen to more soft dman hate.

    • tileguy

      While I agree Yandle isn’t exactly Dre Doughty, he did spend most of his career playing in the West on a very defensive minded team. I don’t think a D man has to be punishing to be heavy. Reinheart for example seems to be the opposite of Nurse in that he uses his excellent positioning to cover any mistakes. Yandle is definitely in the mold of a Bouwmeaster.

      But let’s remember, the goal here is to upgrade on Schult’z position in the line up. I don’t think we need a D core of Charas. Considering how bad our PP has been lately, a true PP quaterback like Yandle I think would compliment the skills demonstrated by our other D men.

      Also, Sekera isn’t really known for being physical but man did he ever lay some guys out last night. So maybe Yandle can do that as well. Maybe I just don’t watch enough Yandle and am only seeing his point totals.

      PS. Yandle has 20 points right now so it seems he still has the touch.

      I think all of these options have pros and cons including price and play styles. And while I maintain, Hamonic would be the best upgrade, I think Yandle might hit that sweet spot of price, skill, veteran leadership, and longevity.

      Maybe it’s just I’ve wanted him on the team for years.

      • tileguy

        I would love Yandle it’s just I’m tired of all the constant complaining hahahahah. I think he’s a great player. Buff might be immune to the complaints . But it’s just wish full thinking anyways as soon as shultz is gone the hate will just switch to someone else

      • tileguy

        Also Yandle played protected minutes on the coyotes. So I think he would be the offensive dman we want but idk if we will like him if he’s stuck plying hard minutes

        • Zarny

          I think he played top line until OEL came on board. Now as was then he’s second line, which I’m pretty sure is where he’d slot in on the Oilers. Especially if we’re talking about taking Schultz spot. I think we have to face the Oilers are never going to have another Pronger until either Klefbom or Nurse becomes that guy. Until then expect Defense by committee.

          But with Yandle and Sekera, at least they have some mentoring. Unlike Schult who had… Ference?

  • pkam

    I don’t think I’ll ever understand my fellow oiler fans. They ( and most fans around the league) blame the oilers woes over the last few years on not drafting defence. Ignoring the obvious (atta boy Darryl!), I would say that as goalies are to Vancouver, defence is to Edmonton. They are our favourite whipping boys. We bring them in under the assumption that they are gonna be super stars, then proceed to absolutely destroy their confidence and berate them into the ground. You all are whining that we didn’t keep petry when I can distinctly remember him being the favourite whipping boy of his time. Developing players takes time. Eberle, hall, Nuge, all made drastic errors throughout their first few seasons, but it wasn’t as noticeable because they were forwards. Draisaitl would have been given away for peanuts last year if you had all gotten your way. And how many of you saw yak being a better fit with mcdavid than hall? I’ll admit even I never saw that one coming. My point is, Justin is a young defencemen who at times makes glaringly brutal mistakes, but has tremendous potential if he can learn to improve. He spent two seasons under Eakins whose system absolutely did not work here and has been improving since. Is he there yet? No, not by a long shot. But let’s stop shipping out our d men for bright shiny new toys, only to watch them blossom while we complain about the management choosing the new toy over what turned out to be a good player. Petry would not have resigned here. We ran the kid out of town and did so with great fanfare. So stop blaming it on management, and stop placing all the oilers many many problems on Justin, unless you start to also give credit for all the good the team does too. The coach gives him minutes cause he believes Schultz can be beneficial to the team. The team wins and loses games. If a player is not helping the team in the eyes of the coach and management, he is either in the press box or ahl. Give it a rest already.

    • Zarny

      So many agrees. It’s like a never ending grass is greener on the other side. I’m not exactly sure how many fans jump on the hate wagons but it’s been getting ridiculous how many times this happens.

  • The Goalie 1976

    I truly don’t understand how people continue to defend Schultz. The people who actually watch the games see he’s awful at hockey. The coach cut his playing time down as much as possible, even the corsi folk are pointing out his stats are very bad.

    This should be the 1 thing OilersNation can agree on (as there is literally no argument against) yet there are still those who feel just because he’s in the lineup he must be good.

    Every season the Oilers have an incomplete roster, and yes the coach must play bad players (Schultz) as there is no other option but AHL rookies. And the recent play of a guy like Brad Hunt is eating Schultz lunch. So I’m not buying your argument that just because he’s on the team and plays, that somehow means he’s not terrible.

  • pkam

    I’m pretty sure Willis watches every game multiple times so he can record stats. People don’t have to have the same opinion as you and then be told they aren’t watching the games. Next you’ll ask if I even played hockey.

  • T.J.F.M.

    Schultz is a not bad dman. His problem is two-fold. He is overpaid by about double. More importantly, it’s the way he (and his agent) has cleverly leveraged his way to being overpaid. From day 1, with Anaheim, he has tactfully manouvered to squeeze the most possible money. Now, he has priced himself out.

  • S cottV

    Can we finally accept the fact that the Oilers has had problems at every level, one of which includes some of the fans?

    I’ve watched nearly every single one of his AHL games, he was a great player. It wasn’t a fluke. The only thing he lacks at this point is confidence, because any mistake made on his part means a top 6 NHL forward gets a scoring chance.

    And that happens when you’re thrown onto a weak D roster, given big minutes, and given massive responsibilities in your rookie season, a season where practices were kept to a minimum because of the accelerated schedule. Being partnered with players like Peckham didn’t result in the same sort of mentorship that other D around the league get. And then you’re working under one of the worst coaches in Oilers history for a year and a half…any young defensemen would come out stunted from that. I’m so thankful the Nurse wasn’t brought in at that time!

    I’m not absolving Schultz for his part of the problem. Wanting to come to Edmonton for more money, but also more ice time (the Ducks would have taken their time with him, as any responsible organization would), he got what he asked for.

    But some of the fans riding him are going well beyond rational criticism and into the realm of stupidity. I went to the NYE game and someone a few rows behind me yells, “YOU SUCK SCHULTZ!” and I wonder now if I had asked him why he thinks Schultz sucks, he wouldn’t be able to string together an answer. For a player who has confidence issues, I have to laugh at how telling a player he sucks is something a fan would do, claiming to be a fan of the team.

    Sure, you pay your money so you can berate the players, I get that. But I have the freedom and right to say that when you think about it, it’s a pretty stupid thing to do.

      • S cottV

        Hmm are you speaking to my proposal that some fans are problematic, or that Schultz’s play is a result of his own wants and his haphazard development?

        If the former, I was maybe unclear in this, but I was looking at the reference to Poti and other Oilers defensemen that don’t seem to get a fair shake. Gilbert, Petry, and others have always been slagged on.

        It almost seems like no player is immune to this sort of “get him out of here!” talk. Even Hall, a top scorer on a consistent basis, is deemed a person who doesn’t know how to win and people want him out.

        There are different levels of fandom and some portion of Oiler fans are just nuts, and I’m worried that this segment is getting real comfortable in slagging players.

        • tileguy

          When you wrote “I’m not absolving Schultz for his part of the problem. Wanting to come to Edmonton for more money, but also more ice time (the Ducks would have taken their time with him, as any responsible organization would), he got what he asked for” it was my attempt at comedy as I was basically yelled at for my conjecture about Schultz coming here because he was promised ice time and more money.

          Please carry on as I enjoy your posts.

  • Zarny

    The truth is always somewhere in the middle.

    I agree with Mr. Willis; criticism of Schultz is disproportionate from reality.

    He isn’t Paul Coffey. His defensive gaffes are well-known. He doesn’t play physical, but neither do Patrick Kane or Erik Karlsson. That isn’t much of a critique. He’s overpaid, but that falls on MacT not Schultz.

    Schultz is the symptom not the cause. Like other young players; thrown in the deep end instead of being set-up for success. Supported by veteran players who were fringe NHLers incapable of providing support. Part of a roster that is too much of the same and does not compliment each other.

  • Zarny

    I feel like this is directed straight at Matt Henderson, and thank goodness. I am sick of his rants on Schultz. Schultz is overpaid and overplayed, but what else do you do with our lack of defensive depth? It is also not likely for the team to magically improve with the removal of this one player.

    Schultz isn’t great. We get it. Write on something else. PLEASE!

  • For Pete's Sake!

    For most of his life, Schultz probably dominated at each level of hockey that he played. He could get the puck whenever he wanted. But once he arrived in the NHL, he found out other players were just as good if not better. If he would have had a proper mentor to show him the ropes, he likely would have fared better. However, that was not the case and so he will move on to another team. In time he will likely re-establish himself as an NHL player. It’s too bad it couldn’t happen here.

  • S cottV

    Nobody’s commented on JSCUHLTZ on this thread for over 24 hrs. Are we done here ? This player gets waaaaaay too much air time. It’s getting old fans….