Duckling on Defense: Justin Schultz
Looking for that next offensive defenseman to come through the pipeline? If you want to find someone who will pop up quickly, you'll likely be looking for an emerging d-man on a team hurting for help on their blue line. The Anaheim Ducks fit the mold as a squad in need of an upgrade on their blue line and wouldn't you know it...they have a pretty decent player you might already know. Justin Schultz is his name and Ryan Van Horne actually wrote a great piece on him earlier this year. Hat tip to forum contributor Nehithaw for requesting another piece on him. If you have any requests, feel free to message me.
Let's take a look back at how Anaheim picked up Schultz...
In the summer of 2007, the infamous Lowe-Burke drama began with an offer sheet to Dustin Penner. The Ducks received three draft picks from the Oilers that year. This gets kinda crazy so try to follow along. Anaheim decided to trade down at the draft and moved the first Oilers pick (#12 overall) to LA for #17 (Gardiner) and #28. The Ducks then traded #28 for #35 and #39 (Nick Deschamps and Eric O'Dell). The Kings went on to trade #12 to Buffalo for #13 and a 2009 pick. Buffalo grabbed Tyler Myers and the Kings took Colton Teubert. The #28 pick that the Ducks moved also ended up being Viktor Tikhonov. So the first pick could've been Myers, but it did land them U of Wisconsin d-man Jake Gardiner.
Pick #2 (43 overall) wasn't traded and Anaheim selected what would end up being its second Wisconsin defenseman, Justin Schultz. Just so I don't keep you guessing, pick #3 was given to the NY Islanders in return for an earlier trade where the Ducks had acquired MA Bergeron for future considerations. The Isles used this pick (73 overall) on Kirill Petrov. I think it's safe to assume Anaheim could've handled these picks better, but the end result had them with the top 2 defenders from the University of Wisconsin Badgers, a team that won the NCAA title in 2006 and ended up being runners up in 2010. Gardiner and Schultz were actually born 2 days apart too. Needless to say, they're pretty close on and off the ice.
At 6'1", 185 lbs, you can see Schultz pretty decent size. The sophomore is only 20 years old so you can expect him to put on more weight as he progresses to the AHL. You can add weight, but you can't always add height. Being 6'1" definitely helps his cause.
As a freshman, Schultz had a respectable 22 points in 43 games and he is absolutely tearing up the NCAA this year with 26 points in 22 games, which prorates to 51 points over the course of a 43 game season. That leads all Badger players and most definitely leads all NCAA defensemen. Hell, he's in a 7-way tie for the 5th most points in the NCAA with some company such as Jaden Schwartz and Cam Atkinson. Schultz had a hat trick against Michigan State back on 11/27 and has 7 multi-point games on the year. Gardiner also assisted on all 3 Schultz goals against MI St. It's also interesting to note that both Gardiner and Schultz are forwards-turned-defensemen. You might see some adjustment learning the defense game in players like that, but they're always thinking about how to get the puck in the net. Phenomenal skill-set on Schultz, who has adjusted a little more swiftly than Gardiner.
If you're wondering how the two compared to each other since Gardiner came to college a year earlier, Schultz actually outscored him last season and he's doing it again this year. Many times the players you skate with say a lot about the experience you're gaining and the level you can expect to someday be at. When you see a fellow player make significant strides, you want to do everything you can to follow and you've also seen first hand what that type of skillset looks like. This is what Schultz saw after playing last season with Derek Stepan and a couple kids by the names of Blake Geoffrion and Brendan Smith.
Back in Anaheim, Visnovsky, Lydman, and Fowler are all signed through 2013. Outside of Visnovsky, Fowler and Sbisa are the only 2 current Ducks that the Wisconsin duo will have to fight against for offensive minutes. The reason I overlook Visnovsky is because he is somewhat injury prone and with his age, he could either end up on the IR or traded by the time the Ducks are looking to get Schultz in the lineup. Sbisa has been highly touted ever since he made the Flyers as an 18 year old, but unless he turns some heads by April, he likely won't receive much of a raise. A low salaried contract for him gives even more of an open door to Schultz. With the Ducks in desperate need of some quality defensemen, don't be surprised if Anaheim pushes for Schultz and Gardiner to sign AHL contracts after their NCAA season is over this year. Barring any unforeseen trades or signings, Schultz and Fowler should be the top two Ducks blue line producers in 2-3 years, with Gardiner and Sbisa around to round out the top four.
The way Schultz is playing, you should not be surprised at all if he signs his first pro contract upon conclusion of his NCAA season. He would best be served with one year of AHL hockey and as Van Horne suggested, he could be ready by 2012-13. Van Horne has 10-40-50 as a possible point total for Schultz, but I think it's very possible for Schultz to hit 15 goals or more. I do agree though that in his good years, 50 points is a realistic number (likely not hitting that number until 2014-15 at the earliest). If you're in a league where defenseman goals are worth more, keep an eye out.