Developing defensemen

Justin Schultz

Justin Schultz

It’s been pretty apparent that Justin Schultz has struggled in his third professional season. Regardless of his performance, there is value in keeping him on the roster. He’s still a prospect who’s still a ways away from being a good quality NHL defensemen. For now, we’re seeing glimpses of his offensive potential, which if developed and deployed correctly, could be a huge piece of the Oilers foundation. What irks most fans is that he’s not performing well even though he gets a lot of the prime minutes and has (very) strong support from management.

You really can’t blame him for the Norris trophy comments. I’m sure MacT would take that one back since it put a lot of unneeded attention and pressure on a 22 year old. Schultz did use a loop hole to leave the Ducks and cash-in on a new deal with the Oilers, something that others have done as well, but that shouldn’t skew the fact that he’s still a young prospect finding his way in the NHL.

Who you can blame for Schultz overall performance and development is the Oilers management team.

They’ve had extremely high expectations since they signed him as a free agent. The Norris trophy comment came out, which made many think of recent recipients like PK Subban, Zdeno Chara, Duncan Keith and Erik Karllson. Realistically, the expectations should have been based on proper metrics of comparable players with similar performance in college and draft selection. Something that Scott Reynolds put together when Schultz signed with the Oilers. Here’s the group of defensemen who had similar stats as Schultz in college and were selected in the second round. Not a bad group at all:

Player Draft Year Draft Number Freshman Age Points per game
Freshman Sophomore Junior
Matt Carle 2003 47 18y 9m 0.87 1.02 1.36
Brendan Smith 2007 27 18y 7m 0.55 0.74 1.24
Justin Schultz 2008 43 19y 2m 0.51 1.15 1.19
Jordan Leopold 1999 44 18y 1m 0.59 0.62 1.17
Jamie McBain 2006 63 18y 7m 0.50 0.69 0.93
Paul Martin 2000 62 18y 6m 0.53 0.86 0.87
Alex Goligoski 2004 61 19y 3m 0.63 0.95 0.89

Source: Copper and Blue

Three of the players, Matt Carle, Paul Martin and Jordan Leopold, made the jump straight from college into the NHL. We know Schultz did spend some time in the AHL with Hall, Eberle and RNH during the lockout, but you can be assured that he would’ve been pushed right into the NHL had the lockout been avoided.

The key thing is to surround the prospect with defensemen in their absolute prime (age 26-30, 300+ NHL games) to carry most of the load while the young prospect can be deployed in the right situations. Here’s a look at the defensive rosters that the three rookies from college had in their first and second professional seasons along with their total time-on-ice (TOI).

Matt Carle
San Jose Sharks (2006-07) San Jose Sharks (2007-08)
Player Age GP TOI Player Age GP TOI
Hannan 28 79 1,803 Vlasic 20 82 1,772
Vlasic 19 81 1,798 Ehrhoff 25 77 1,673
Ehrhoff 24 82 1,523 Rivet 33 74 1,569
McLaren 29 67 1,435 Murray 27 66 1,153
Carle 22 77 1,397 McLaren 30 61 1,120
Murray 26 35 377 Carle 23 62 1,026
Davison 26 22 205 Ozolinsh 35 39 662
Paul Martin
New Jersey Devils (2003-04) New Jersey Devils (2005-06)
Player Age GP TOI Player Age GP TOI
Niedermayer 30 81 2,100 Rafalski 32 82 2,093
White 26 75 1,577 Martin 24 80 1,889
Rafalski 30 69 1,573 White 28 73 1,591
Martin 22 70 1,409 Matvichuk 32 62 1,130
Hale 22 65 976 Malakhov 37 29 601
Stevens 39 38 913 Albelin 41 36 503
Albelin 39 45 666 Hale 24 38 458
Brown 27 39 544 McGillis 33 27 384
Jordan Leopold
Calgary Flames (2002-03) Calgary Flames (2003-04)
Player Age GP TOI Player Age GP TOI
Lydman 25 81 2,088 Regehr 23 82 1,832
Regehr 22 76 1,729 Leopold 23 82 1,822
Gauthier 26 72 1,431 Warrener 28 77 1,530
Boughner 31 69 1,370 Gauthier 27 80 1,498
Leopold 22 58 1,195 Lydman 26 67 1,421
Montador 23 50 759 Ference 24 72 1,344
Buzek 25 44 632 Montador 24 26 306
DuPont 22 16 268 Commodore 24 12 183

Aaand, here’s who Schultz had in his first two seasons:

Edmonton Oilers (2012-13) Edmonton Oilers (2013-14)
Player Age GP TOI Player Age GP TOI
Petry 25 48 1,052 Schultz 23 74 1,728
Schultz 22 48 1,030 Petry 26 80 1,727
Smid 26 48 975 Ference 34 71 1,495
Schultz 30 48 894 Belov 27 57 951
Whitney 29 34 628 Marincin 21 44 843
Potter 29 33 576 Larsen 24 30 515
Fistric 26 25 383 Klefbom 20 17 269

Source: Hockey Abstract

Now you can make a case for each of the Oilers defenseman and their positive or negative impact on Schultz. The main thing I wanted to illustrate is that if the Oilers had looked at legitimate comparables, they may have seen the value in surrounding young Schultz with quality defensemen in their primes. Both Carle and Martin benefited from being on well built rosters with their development in mind, and have established themselves as reliable NHL players.

It would be a huge benefit to the young prospects like Schultz, Klefbom and Marincin if the Oilers can land some experienced, in-their-prime, defenders this summer. That might mean reduced minutes for the young players, but it at least takes some of the burden away and lets them flourish in more specific situations (i.e., power play, offensive zone starts).

Finally, I just want to re-emphasize the realistic expectations we should have on Schultz. Below are the points per 60 by season for Schultz and each of the three comparable players. Very high level, but it might help to temper some of the Norris trophy expectations.

P60

Just a side note: Bruce made a great point yesterday on Lowetide’s show regarding some of the excessive comments against Craig MacTavish. Critique his work all you want, and pick apart every one of his moves, but there’s really no need for the personal insults. Part of being a fan is about furthering our knowledge about the game, and the cheap shots to people running the team does nothing to push the discussion along.

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3 thoughts on “Developing defensemen

  1. Pingback: Realistic Expectations | The SuperFan

  2. Pingback: Talking Oilers, Laurent Brossoit, OKC Barons and Schultz on the Lowdown with Lowetide | The SuperFan

  3. Pingback: Saving Justin Schultz | The SuperFan

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