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Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Curious Case of "JUSTIN SCHULTZ"

Endless arguments (or should I say debates?) have taken place on twitter, Facebook, blog sites and throughout message boards not to mention on the streets in Edmonton. The main disagreement is Justin's potential point total and or defensive game in the NHL and how well his career to date will translate from AHL now to the NHL. People are curious as to the answer to these questions.

Some are looking at him as a superstar, others say it's Oiler fans being biased to their own players. Some people believe that the defensive prospects of the past translating their game to the NHL is slim to none within the first year. I have been asked for my thoughts quite often and have taken heat for my answers (or should I say my opinions). Instead of trying to explain my reasoning with limits on twitter and in a typical text or on Facebook, I thought I would go ahead and just openly expose my reasons behind my crazy thinking here at Oilers Jambalaya. 

Justin began his Jr career playing in the BCHL and while his first season was good, it was not instant super stardom. He did however record 40 points in a 57 game schedule. Not too shabby for such a young player but nonetheless was named the Top Defenseman of his conference in the BCHL, which is no small feat for a 17-year-old.  His sophomore season showed a growth curve and now he started being taken notice of by scouts everywhere. With 50 points (10 points more then previous season) but in 49 games only (8 less games played then previous year) Justin was showing the hockey world his  offensive upside and a good understanding on growth in his defensive game. Once again he was named Top Defensemen, not bad feat that seldom achieve.

 Westside Warriors BCHL

In Justin's 1st season playing on a University of Wisconsin defense,  (considered one of the deepest in the country) he was able to step in as a freshman and make a contribution. In 43 games played he was able to record 22 points as a freshman. Few freshman have the ability to make the impact that Justin was able to. While his 1st year in Wisconsin was a continued growth curve for Schultz, it was just the beginning of greater things to come. He was named to the All-Rookie team, a achievement that is worth noting to skeptics of his game.

In his sophomore year for the Badgers he scored 47 points in 41 games and was +16 with 28 PMs; Schultz was later named the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year and was named to the WCHA and NCAA West First all-star teams. Was also a finalist for the "Hobey Baker Award" as NCAA Top Collegiate Player.

Justin continuing to improve his game at all levels and in his 3rd year at Wisconsin, had 44 points in 37 games and on a team that was now struggling to even be at .500. Once again Justin was named the WCHA Defensive Player of the year. In addition he was chosen on the WCHA first all-star team and the (West) First All-American Team. Once again he was a finalist for the "Hobey Baker Award" as NCAA Top Collegiate Player. 2 years running for this award is seldom done for a forward let alone a defensemen. 

Schultz had showed the hockey world that he was a player who not only could play hockey but had the ability to mature and continue to show he has the ability to keep growing in his position.

University of Wisconsin Badgers WCHA

Having now been sought out as a UFA in the summer of 2012, Justin choose to pick the Edmonton Oilers as his best opportunity to begin his NHL Career with. With the lockout actually coming into fruition Justin Schultz was assigned as a ELC player to the AHL farm team in OKC. Away from the incredible pressure that would be on him in training camp and the huge jump from the WCHA to the NHL, it looked like a blessing in disguise. Now suiting up at the minor pro level would afford him some time to adjust to the pro game of hockey at the second highest level. In 34 games he was able to register 48 points. 

Few expected Schultz to perform at a PPG let alone above a PPG but Justin had once again risen to the occasion and really attached his skillset and on ice IQ to the minor pro level in the AHL. His awards for player of the week, player of the month etc..were no small feat especially for a defensemen. Being only second to Eberle (a established NHL'er ) and producing his point totals has been a unreal sight to see. He was on pace to break several records and be in many of the AHL records for the future before getting the recall to Edmonton with the lockout ending. 

OKC Barons AHL

Back now in Edmonton and skating with the Edmonton Oilers for the first time, has the city and the NHL world discussing the potential he has in his point production (especially based on his AHL numbers) and his ability to handle the big boys of the game with years of NHL experience. To date, all we can say is he continually shows that upward curve and at the very minimum he should be able to handle PP time and 3rd pairing duty. In OKC he was logging 24-30 minutes a night, so not sure exactly how his play would handle the lack of ice time. Only time will truly tell.

 Edmonton Oilers NHL

 SeasonTeamLeagueGPGATPPIM+/-    Postseas.GPGATPPIM+/- 
 2006-07 Westside Warriors BCHL21010|
 2007-08 Westside Warriors BCHL579314028| Playoffs113584
 2008-09 Westside Warriors BCHL4915355029| Playoffs61232
 Canada West U19 WJAC-1940220|
 2009-10 Univ. of Wisconsin NCAA4361622122|
 2010-11 Univ. of Wisconsin NCAA411829472816|
 2011-12 Univ. of Wisconsin  NCAA371628441211|
 2012-13 Oklahoma City Barons AHL341830486|
 Edmonton Oilers NHL-----|
So in looking through his career to date, we can gain some insight into possibilities of future potential ability in moving to the next level of hockey. I have gone on record that I believe he will be used on the Oilers #1 PP and used on the 2nd line pairing. Maybe occasionally on a bad day were his defensive play is lacking or he is getting punished by a big strong forechecking team, he gets pushed to some 3rd line time but rest assured, he will get moved back to that 2nd pairing time on ice the following game. I am predicting approximately a .60 PPG pace based on let's say a 45 game season. This would give him about 27 point season. Some have told me, I am crazy if I think a young player like Schultz can just step in and produce like that as a rookie. I must be seeing with OIL glasses on or I am just biased as a Oiler fan. Other arguments have been that just because he produced in the AHL doesn't mean a thing. Examples of the AHL point producers of the past are used with forward players. With all that being said, here is my Top Reasons to why I believe Justin Schultz is about to show the hockey world he is for real and can produce better then some skeptics believe...

1) Closely observing Schultz career to date, you see a trend of the ability to bring his game up a level each year. Even when moving up a level of hockey from the BCHL, while not producing higher points, Justin still produced at a high level of hockey. Upon jumping up to the AHL, he produced at a elite level despite now playing in minor pro hockey
2) It's not like Justin has been a 1 year wonder in his hockey achievements. Looking back at all his awards and selections can tell you everything you need to know about the ability of a player. He has produced at every level to date and I see no reason why that wont continue this year
3) To excel in the AHL like Justin did is almost unthinkable for any player let alone a defensive first year rookie.
4) Justin is not just any Rookie entering the NHL but a older more experienced rookie.
5) Has been given rave reviews of his Hockey IQ by his NHL talent teammates Taylor Hall, Jordon Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. I could also mention AHL players but figured you would give more   strength to NHL'ers then AHL'ers.
6) OKC Coach Todd Nelson believes in Schultz's ability and even defends his defensive ability as being under appreciated. In case your just saying, he is just his coach, they always talk like that. In the case of Coach Nelson, if you listen to his interviews he is very frank and speaks his mind quite easily. He surprisingly will be quite honest about his opinions to break down and critique a player with no hesitation. In the case of Schultz, he only states on occasion he makes a rookie mistake but is extremely teachable and adapts the coaching into the next game.
7) Comparing Schultz's point production to past AHL success of other high point producers who never even made the NHL is pretty weak. Did those aforementioned players, people are thinking of show incredible accolades and achievements going into the AHL as well? Did they produce like him in their rookie season? Were they Defensemen? All these questions are important in looking at those comparisons.
8) Like RNH who showed a continuous upward growth curve in his elite level hockey IQ and skill, Schultz has done much the same but through a different path. 
9) Some of the same arguments people made about RNH being to small have been made about Schultz, especially playing defense. As Whitney has said in interviews, it isn't always the physical ability to crush a opponent but the ability to have a good stick and hockey sense. Not sure if it was Hall or Eberle in one of their interviews but they stated skill players getting around Justin seldom find success. The difficulty that Justin has, is with the big rugged and tough forecheckers. 
10) This player was probably the 3rd most sought after free agent on the market in 2012. Why? Cause every team saw something incredible in his talent. Ask any scout, amateur or pro and they will tell you the same, the sky is the limit for this guy. People who get paid to critique in the NHL with hockey players speak the same language and over 75% agree on the upside of Schultz.

The only question that really remains is can Justin Schultz step right in and produce or will he need a year or two to develop and mature into the NHL game. From all the stats, the hockey IQ of this player and from those close to him, I say yes, he is ready now. Highly doubt he can produce a PPG but .6 PPG is a possibility IMO. It's a Curious case, that's for sure! Only Justin Schultz can really answer that question but the hockey world is only a week away from seeing the answers beginning to unfold.

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