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Justin Schultz - #4 in the Top 25 Under 25

And on the seventh day, God rested, but not before somehow finagling Justin Schultz onto the Oilers' roster...

Schultz nonchalantly turns away from a kamikaze attack...
Schultz nonchalantly turns away from a kamikaze attack...
Rich Lam

In Alberta when we talk about windfalls, we'll usually be referring to a farmer who discovered that his land sits on top of the Western Sedimentary Basin, or the experience of any human being that bought a house here prior to 2005. The Oilers have had a few windfalls in their day as well, such as getting Roman Hamrlik in a trade while getting rid of Steve Kelly and Jason Bonsignore. But I can't think of any particular windfall they've had as great as having Justin Schultz self-select himself onto the roster through a wormhole in free agency. Sounds well and good, until you realize that Justin Schultz may very well be our best defenceman already.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Alan
JW Michael Ryan
4 Justin Schultz 1990-07-06 43 2008
4 6 3 3 3 4 2 4 4

Previous Rank: 7

He's ranked #4 in this edition of the Top 25 Under 25, jumping 3 spots from last summer's rankings, and juuuust missing the vote total of our #3 prospect, who will be profiled tomorrow. Every writer had him ranked higher than his overall rank last time, with Ben's #6 being the lowest and my #2 being the highest. #2 sounds pretty high, considering there are three number 1 overall draft picks left to come (oh crap I spoiled it for everybody!), but I gave a lot of thought to this.

Imagine which player would do the most harm to the team's performance if you took them off the roster today for the rest of the year. For me, the first is obviously Taylor Hall, but the second most damage would be done by not having Justin Schultz. He is already that important to this team. I wrote a post before the season started that used regression to forecast a very optimistic 0.69 point per game average this year for Schultz. The primary reason for that, obviously, was his ridiculous 1.41 PPG recorded in the AHL during the lockout. The only other defencemen in the sample I gathered for my analysis that were even close to that in the season before entering the NHL were Joe Corvo's 1.0 PPG and Dan Boyle's 0.90 PPG. He may have been playing with great players, but you didn't see Taylor Fedun putting up those kind of numbers either. It was an historic performance, one that flew a shot across the bow of the entire NHL.

He may not yet be at that 0.69 PPG pace, but he's not too far off. With 13 points in 22 games (as of this writing), his 0.59 PPG ties him for 20th among defencemen in the entire NHL this season. He's second in rookie defencemen scoring, with teen dream Dougie Hamilton just ahead of him at 0.60 PPG. When you look at some of the names that surround him on this list, you start to appreciate just how amazing his scoring rate is: Keith Yandle, Mark Streit, Kimmo Timonen, Big Buff, Andrei Markov. These are longtime fixtures among the scoring leaders in the NHL. Schultz is younger than Jordan Eberle and only 22 games into his NHL career. As we speak, he's got the 7th highest points per game of any rookie defenceman since the 1994-95 season, and Zidlicky's leading 0.65 PPG is less than a stone's throw away. It's easy to forget it through the mire of another death march season, but we are watching a bit of history here.

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.
You might be thinking that it's not that hard to differentiate yourself when your competition on this team includes a man with two bionic feet, three #4 defencemen and four #7 defencemen. And you'd be right. But just think how much easier he would have it if he was playing on a normal, functioning NHL team -- he could be sheltered a bit, matched against semi-easy competition, and eased into learning the NHL game. With the Oilers he's been handed a defibrillator and a decomposing body that hasn't had a pulse in 7 years, and he's actually doing well. It's stunning.

So if his Oiler competition isn't really up to snuff, who should we compare him against? I dunno, how about the 8 defencemen likely to garner attention for Team Canada for the Sochi Olympics? Lofty, sure, but wouldn't it be interesting to see how he stacks up?

Even Strength


For this exercise, I've taken some pertinent indicators and given a rank for each according to 'goodness' -- so a rank of 1 is always 'best'. PDO (a stat measuring puck luck) is the one stat that's likely up for debate, but I ranked the lowest PDO as the best, with the rationale being that he's likely to see his numbers improve the most.

Schultz starts looking very impressive with these results. In the seven categories, he's ranked no worse than 6th out of 9 players. He's got the 2nd hardest zone starts out of this group, which is patently absurd coaching when you think about it. He also faces higher than average competition out of this group -- which likely no other team in the league would be forced to feed him since he wouldn't be any other team's top pairing defencemen. He's in the range with the bulk of these dmen in terms of points per 60 mins of icetime, with only Letang and Pietrangelo pulling away. Perhaps most impressive, his Relative Corsi is 4th out of the 9 players, showing that he's pushing possession very well relative to his team (which is admittedly abominable).



Looking at the above numbers, you could make a case that Justin Schultz could play on an Olympic-level powerplay. With the 5th best teammates, he has the 2nd best points rate per 60 mins, and the 4th best rate of goals being scored while he's on the ice. The only troublesome stat is him being 2nd last in shots on net per 60 minutes, but that's likely a product of the Oilers powerplay's frustrating insistence on creating a gold-plated look before taking each shot.

Penalty Kill


This is more for purely interest's sake, since Schultz plays the 2nd least PK minutes out of this sample of players. But he has played those minutes against the toughest competition by Raw Corsi by quite some margin. I'd say this is usually because Schultz seems to see ice-time during extended multiple kills, when the other team's first unit has gotten a chance to rest and get back on the ice. The bad news is that he's allowing goals at the 2nd worst rate, but he can take some solace that he's in front of Shea Weber. The good news is that he allows the 4th least Corsi events against per 60 mins, which includes shots on net, shots missed, and shots that were blocked. I'll be very interested to see how he progresses on the PK this year and if Krueger starts using him a bit more.

This exercise wasn't meant to imply that Justin Schultz should be on Canada's next Olympic team, as he really shouldn't be. All I wanted to do was open some eyes as to what kind of game this kid already has so short into his NHL career and how it compares to the very best.

It was after looking at stats such as these that I decided Schultz is the 2nd most important player for the future of the Oilers, and likely why our group has bumped him up to 4th this winter. I'm betting he could climb this list even more by this time next year.

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