Justin Schultz makes his debut on Copper and Blue's Top-25 Under 25 in the top-10, ranked at number seven. In doing so, he beats out a bunch of guys who have actually played NHL hockey in Edmonton (Magnus Paajarvi, Teemu Hartikainen, Anton Lander, etc.) and also lands ahead of Oscar Klefbom, generally seen as the team's best defensive prospect.
Why is he ranked so high? Were the writers here simply swayed by the hype that accompanied his signing, or is there real reason for optimism?
If we've been swept by the hype, it seems to have grabbed hold of almost the entire crew here.
Previous Rank: Not Ranked
Before we get into why seven of eight panelists ranked Schultz between seventh and eighth on the Oilers' under-25 list, let's look at what the lone holdout had to say. Derek Zona ranks Schultz as the Oilers' 10th-best under-25 player:
I don't know that I'm low on Schultz, I ranked him just three spots below the high, so much as high on the other prospects who rank in front of him. I think the comparables Scott was able to locate for Schultz are impressive, but I think Schultz is walking into a buzzsaw and is going to face some extremely tough competition without much help from a very shallow defense. Like many Oilers, his baptism will come by fire, and if he handles it, all the better. But with the Oilers' history of putting young players in positions to fail, I'm a bit concerned for the kid.
Looking at the list of comparable players that Scott put together, it's easy to see where Derek's coming from. It's a list with some impressive names - Matt Carle, Alex Goligoski, Brendan Smith, Paul Martin, Jordan Leopold and Jamie McBain. Most of those guys would have been pretty helpful on the Oilers' blue line last season. On the other hand, most of them weren't especially good as first year professionals: Carle was the only guy to crack the 40-point mark offensively and just three of those defenders were in the NHL as rookie pros.
But Schultz's impact will extend beyond his first year with the team - he's just turned 22, and he has a lot of positive check marks even beyond his work at the University of Wisconsin. The following scouting report is one I've quoted previously; it comes from last year's McKeen's Hockey annual:
[Named WCHA 'Defensive Player of the Year' - and was a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award [handed out to college hockey's best overall player] .. confidence and maturity soared last season .. skilled, industrious rearguard with good offensive vision .. strong, agile skater – stride is smooth and powerful – and backed by excellent footspeed .. keeps his feet activated when receiving pucks .. proficient at creating space for breakouts – has a knack of feinting off checkers and disguising intentions .. confident, heads up puck-rusher .. reads the forecheck well .. shows good in-close control .. bold and aggressive, and not afraid to push the envelope .. likes to spearhead the rush and is adept at making sharp cuts to open up passing and shooting lanes .. excels at one-timers 0 gets his body and stick in ready position .. still working on his defensive structure .. needs to work on angles and positioning – learning to back up and stay square when defending the rush ..
Schultz is a right-handed shooter with NHL size who has eclipsed the point-per-game mark at the college level two years running. He led his college team in both total shots and plus/minus last year; bizarrely, he was also their best goal-scorer. In 2010-11, he played with two guys who made the jump to the NHL this year; here's the stats lines for the trio back then:
- Schultz: 41GP - 18G - 29A - 47PTS
- Craig Smith: 41GP - 19G - 24A - 43PTS
- Jake Gardiner: 41GP - 10G - 31A - 41PTS
Smith scored 36 points this season as a rookie forward with Nashville. Jake Gardiner scored 30 points on the Toronto blue line.
Everything about Schultz: the scouting reports, the statistics, indicates that he has real potential to be a special NHL player. It might not happen in 2012-13 - though I expect he'll at least be ready for regular work on the Oilers' third-pairing - but eventually he should be a key ingredient in the club's rebuild.