On a team with actual defensive depth, Justin Schultz would have been part of a sheltered 3rd pairing while seeing a lot of power play time. In Edmonton, which didn't have any defensive depth, he was a 2nd pairing defenseman who had to spend most of the season learning on the fly.
There are a lot of things to like about Justin Schultz's game. He's an excellent skater and can handle the puck extremely well at top speed, he moves the puck quickly and efficiently, has a fantastic shot that he can hit the net with at will and is a tremendous rush defender (you could make a 5 minute highlight reel of him stripping the puck off attackers from behind from last season).
He simply dominated the AHL, finishing in a tie for first amongst defensemen, despite playing 41 less games than the player he finished tied with. Just let that sink in for a minute. His 51 points in 34 games is what you'd expect a young forward who was too good for the AHL to put up and he did it as a defenseman.
It wasn't all rainbows and unicorns for the rookie. When Michael Parkatti looked at his season in March, Justin Schultz had a bunch of good things going:
Besides the point scoring, he might be the Oilers best defencemen already:
- He leads the defence in even strength and power-play ice-time per game
- He's playing the 4th hardest competition at evens behind Smid/Petry/Fistric
- He's got the 2nd highest RelCorsi(+4.8) behind Nick Schultz
- His PDO is 979, with his on-ice shooting percentage due for an increase
- He's not just the best Oilers defencemen on the powerplay, he's the team's only defensive option on the powerplay. His scoring rate of 5.98 points/60 mins is more than double the 2nd place Whitney, while every other dman has no points on the powerplay.
- He actually gets over a minute of ice-time per game on the penalty kill, and he allows the lowest amount of shots on net per 60 mins on the entire team.
Looking at his season ending numbers, the second half of the season was a bit of a horror show for Schultz.
- His ice time was reduced and Jeff Petry overtook him in ES TOI
- He dropped from 4th to 5th in terms of competition, being passed by Ryan Whitney, as well as trailing the players listed above
- His RelCorsi fell through the floor and he ended up 4th on the team at (-1.2)
- His PDO saw a small increase to 982
- His PPP/60 at 5 on 4 dropped almost a full point to 5.06
- His PK work remained at the same level, averaging about 1 minute per game and being on the ice for the fewest shots against per 60
Despite having his role reduced over the course of the season, Justin Schultz also saw a hefty fall in his play. Part of that fall can be attributed to the fact that the NHL season was condensed and the jump from college to pros was just too much in terms of games played. It's a reasonable explanation and one that bares examining over the course of the 2014 season. The Oilers added a lot of depth to their blueline this summer and it will be interesting to see how Dallas Eakins decides how to use that depth.
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