Justin Schultz is Elite

When Justin Schultz made his decision to sign with the Oilers upon entering the NHL, he probably made the worst possible decision for himself. Little did we know, he made the best possible decision for the Penguins.

Top four defensemen are few and far between in today’s NHL. Teams will pay absurd prices to acquire them in trades and hand them humongous contracts in free agency. It’s safe to say, the best and most team friendly way to get them is to draft well and develop them in your own system. However, general manager Jim Rutherford found a way to obtain a top 4 talent without giving up much of anything at all.

In Edmonton, Justin Schultz never had a chance. Between a lackluster roster, shoddy coaching and a nonexistent prospect development system, Schultz was destined to fail from the moment he signed with the Oilers.

Offensive defenseman are the trickiest and most difficult players to develop besides goaltenders. They need a good defensive partner, good forwards to get the puck to and a viable developmental system within their organization. The Oilers had none of those things for Schultz in his time there. He often became a candidate for healthy scratches and was regularly the butt-end of jokes in Edmonton.

Schultz’s time in Edmonton, while detrimental to his confidence and development, is going to be a major key in keeping the Penguins championship window open for years to come. Schultz’s struggles with the Oilers were bad enough that the Oilers shipped him to the Penguins last year for one measly third-round pick. A low risk trade with high reward potential, which proved to be just that for the Penguins. Little did they know, by trading for playoff depth, the Penguins just got themselves the top four defenseman that they’d been looking for all along.

Before we look at just how good Schultz has been, let’s put in perspective just how much of a bargain he is, so you can be even more impressed as I list off his stats. I’ll list a top four defenseman, followed by their cost of acquisition.

Keith Yandle: John Moore, Anthony Duclair, 1st round pick, 2nd round pick

Adam Larsson: (!!!)Taylor Hall

Rental of Kevin Shattenkirk: Zach Sanford, Brad Malone, 1st round pick, cond. 2nd round pick

Justin Schultz: 3rd round pick

Now, just how good has Justin Schultz played this year? If you’re not a diehard fan like myself or you’re a fan of another team, you might think that Penguins fans are exaggerating his play this season.

The truth is, Schultz is probably even better than you think he is.

His underlying numbers prove to be just as good as his production, which means his scoring this season isn’t a fluke. He’s generating shots at nearly the rate of a top pairing defenseman,  and he doesn’t concede many shots while he’s on the ice either. His overall shot impact is just on the line of being a top pairing defenseman.

Pretty good for a third round pick and a trivial cap hit of $1.4M, am I right?

Without question, Justin Schultz’s production is elite in every sense of the word. He’s fifth among defenseman in points, trailing only a few scrubs like Burns, Karlsson, Hedman and Keith. Schultz also has four games in hand on Duncan Keith, so you might as well slot him in as the fourth highest scoring defenseman.

Incredibly, there’s still more good to talk about with Schultz. He’s only 26 years old and he still has a lot of developing to do. He had absolutely no chance of progressing his game in Edmonton and came to Pittsburgh last year still as a very raw talent.

This is the first NHL season that Schultz had any chance at being successful, and his numbers speak for themselves. Schultz is already good, and he’s only going to get better from here on out. I would’ve been satisfied just to see him showing shades of a top four defenseman this year and getting some much needed confidence back in his game. He’s exceeded all of those expectations and performed as one of the very best defensemen in the league.

He is also proving to thrive when the team needs him most. The Penguins needed a puck moving defenseman to step up in the playoffs in a depth role and help them win a Stanley Cup, Schultz did just that.

This year, the Penguins needed someone to fill the role of one of the league’s very best defenseman in Kris Letang, and Schultz has absolutely flourished this season in his elevated role.

As long as Letang returns for the playoffs, the rest of the league better watch out. The Penguins speed and skill will be even more so than last year with not just one but two of the most talented right defenseman that any team has to offer.

Schultz is a restricted free agent after this season, so there’s no need to fret about losing him to someone else. Restricted free agents almost always return if the team wants them back, and you have to imagine that Schultz is going to be eager to come back to Pittsburgh after the ridiculous amount of success he’s had here. Jim Rutherford already vocalized that signing Schultz is going to be his first priority this offseason.

I look forward to Justin Schultz becoming a bigger part of the Penguins blue line every season for many years to come.


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