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.
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.
Check out the complete Top 25 Under 25 List in our