How good might Justin Schultz be in his rookie season?
The Edmonton Oilers didn't have a very strong defense last season, so it's something of a surprise that almost the entire group will return for 2012-13 when last Christmas they had just three defenders under contract: Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert, and Ladislav Smid. Shortly after Christmas, the team signed Corey Potter to a two-year deal in a move that I quite liked. They followed that by signing Andy Sutton to what seemed to be an expensive one-year deal (though based on the deals give out to Aaron Rome and Cory Sarich, Sutton looks like he'll end up in the middle of Tyler's group of comparables) in a move that I didn't like nearly as much.
At the trade deadline, the club sent a signed Tom Gilbert to Minnesota for a signed Nick Schultz in a move that I found pretty frustrating (they traded the part of a good shut-down pairing that's very hard to find for the part of a good shut-down pairing that's a bit easier to find). They stood pat at the draft and then when it was time for qualifying offers, the Oilers decided to retain Jeff Petry (who now has a contract) and Theo Peckham (who will almost certainly sign his qualifying offer).
The only player missing from last year's group is Cam Barker, and the Oilers found a replacement for him when they signed Justin Schultz, a player with an impressive college career but no NHL games. Schultz arrived with great fanfare, and so there are some among us with high expectations. But are those high expectations warranted? I'll try to answer that question after the jump.
As I said earlier, Justin Schultz was very impressive during his time with the University of Wisconsin. But he's not the only player to have an impressive college career. When I went looking for comparables, I decided to look for defensemen who were drafted in a similar spot (between 23rd and 63rd overall as far back as 1999), who played at least three years of NCAA hockey, and who had similar offense in at least two of those three NCAA seasons (within 0.3 points per game). Let's take a look at the result:
What a nice group of players! Schultz and Goligoski are on the older side ("Fresh Age" is the player's age in September of his Freshman year), and Leopold is clearly the youngest, but there's not a bust to be found in this group, which I actually found a bit surprising considering where in the draft we're poking around. When you combine this statistical look with the wonderful scouting reports, it's easy to say that folks should be pretty excited. If we're thinking about the long term, Schultz looks very likely to be part of the solution.
But what about the short term? Let's take a look at how this group of players did in their first pro season:
Half came straight to the NHL, while the other half played in the AHL (I should note here that Jordan Leopold is the only one to play his senior year of college, so in terms of age, he's now more in line with Goligoski and Schultz as opposed to the baby of the group). So which of these seasons would looks most similar to what we might see from Schultz?
The Oilers aren't likely to put Schultz in the AHL, so we can nix those three right off the hop. Paul Martin's year almost seems like too much to hope for, especially given the giant chasm in quality between the 2003-04 Devils and the 2012-13 Oilers, so I nixed that one too. Carle seems possible at least in terms of role if not results (besting half a point per game would be incredible). The TOI and point totals combine to suggest mostly sheltered minutes at evens plus time on the power play, which is exactly the role Schultz should have this season.
Leopold's totals look more like what might happen if Schultz is rushed into top four minutes, i.e., big struggles at evens that hurt the offensive totals. Given the roster make-up right now, that doesn't seem at all far-fetched. Even though the team has eight defenders signed, this Oilers desperately need one more top four defenseman.