Written by The Burgh Blog Writer: Austin Tocco
What a roller coaster ride it has been this year for Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz. Schultz opened up the 2015-16 campaign with the Edmonton Oilers who often find themselves towards the bottom of the standings. Schultz really struggled with Edmonton and he could not put out a solid defensive effort, at least to their standards. In his career in Edmonton, Schultz scored 28 goals and 101 points in 248 games. There is no questioning his ability to score as a defenseman, but his control in his own zone was another story. Once the trade deadline came around, the Penguins decided to take a chance with the 25 year old defenseman. The Penguins acquired Justin Schultz for a third round pick in the 2016 NHL draft. A mere 5 months later, Schultz is riding down the Boulevard of the Allies in the back of a truck celebrating his championship, not a bad turnaround. He stepped into play more once Trevor Daley went down with a lower body injury, and he stepped up to the plate big time. He went from the last place team in the league to the first place team just like that and never looked back.
The biggest positive that I have realized about Schultz is the fact that he can provide depth in the defensive lineup at a low cost. He is still a young player with much room for improvement, and once he has the ability to learn from the best in Pittsburgh and skate alongside Kris Letang, Schultz could find himself atop the defensive pairings. On the flip side, another positive was that he could have been the best rental of the year in the NHL. For just a 3rd round pick, the Penguins were able to steal Schultz from a struggling Oilers club for practically nothing. If the Penguins did want to keep Schultz they could, or they could let him go. Schultz is very similar to Kris Letang, his style of play is more offensive than defensive. He has great speed and has the ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone if need be. Once the Penguins are in attack mode, Schultz is a viable option at the blue line to rip a slap shot past the goaltender. His shot is effective and accurate which allowed him to score a couple goals for the Penguins during his short tenure in Pittsburgh. Justin Schultz found himself on the second power-play line for the Penguins which was well deserved. I thought that he really stepped in well for injured Daley. Daley is a phenomenal player and it was going to be hard for Schultz to step in, and he did. The kid has no fear and that is a key ingredient for success. Do not be surprised if you see Schultz on the Penguins roster next year.
Though still young at the age of 25, Justin Schultz does let his game slip away at key moments in games. When the team might need him to be more defensive, he carries the puck into the offensive end and turns it over and cannot recover in time. He takes many risks that could jeopardize his positioning. His statistics in Edmonton are real, he struggles through multiple stretches throughout the season, we just happened to get the better of him. His plus/minus is something to worry about in his career. He is not as effective down in the trenches behind our goaltender and relies on the other defender to bail him out. If Schultz would focus more on being a defenseman during the offseason, Schultz could very well find himself on a NHL roster sooner rather than later.
2016 Statistics + Playoffs:
+/- : -14
Justin was under a 1 year/ $3,900,000 contract in Edmonton for the 2015-16 season. Schultz is now a restricted free agent for the next year.
Overall Rating: B-