So far in our journey through the Top 25 Under 25 the rankings haven't been very controversial. Our exclusion of Mitch Moroz might have puzzled a few readers, and obviously there have been players who some would have thought should have been a spot or two higher or lower, but I don't think that have left people wondering what the hell we were thinking. That might change with Justin Schultz landing in the number eight spot.
As you can see from the rankings we all have Schultz right around the number eight sport; ten of the voters had him within one spot either way. What those rankings don't tell you is how he compares to the other defencemen in the Oilers' system, specifically Martin Marincin, who Schultz obviously now ranks behind. In our last rankings only Ben and Derek had Marincin ahead of Schultz, now eight of our voters do. I am not one of the eight though, but that doesn't mean that I don't have concerns about Schultz's game.
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Schultz's sophomore season was not what I had hoped for. After playing 21:26 a night as a rookie, second on the team behind Jeff Petry, Schultz jumped to 23:20 last season, the most on the Oilers. And most of that increase came at even strength where he played nearly 19 minutes a night. Now in theory a second year player getting that much ice time should be a good sign - Schultz was 35th league wide in ice time per game - but in this case he struggled to keep the puck moving in the right direction, and consequently the Oilers struggled to keep the puck out of the net when he was on the ice.
But Schultz wasn't alone in his struggles on the Oilers blue line last season, almost everyone available to Dallas Eakins looked terrible for large parts of the season. Even accounting for the overall ugliness of the defence Schultz still stands out though. His Corsi Rel % of -2.58 was better than only Andrew Ference, Nick Schultz, and Ladislav Smid last season, and two of those guys finished the season playing elsewhere. From a player that on the ice than anyone else those kind of numbers are just downright ugly. The offensive contributions are nice but they don't offset what's given away at the other end of the ice.
The silver lining with Schultz, and a big part of why I still have him ahead of Marincin, is that he's so far in his career been saddled with subpar defence partners. Ference and the other Schultz have been his most common partners, accounting for just over 60% of his total ice time. There are times where Schultz looks lost in his own end of the rink, too many times, but is that a result of him trying to do too much because he's trying to cover for a couple of boat anchors or is it because he simply isn't very good at defence, right now I don't think we know either way.
With a one-year deal in his pocket this is the year for Schultz to show us what he can do, he arrived with a lot of hype (we once had him ranked at number four) but so far he hasn't really lived up to expectations. Getting him some ice time with more capable defenders might be a good place to start. Or maybe a new coach looking after the defence will help get him back on track. I hope something works because I doubt that Eakins will throw him over the boards a lot less frequently in the coming season than he did in the last and it'd be nice to see some better results.
Check out previous stories in the Top 25 Under 25 series in our StoryStream.