If I asked you who would be leading the AHL scoring race in the latter part of November a few of your answers might have been Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and if he had been healthy enough to start the season even Taylor Hall had a chance. Well if you picked a player off the Oklahoma City Barons you would have been right. If you picked one of the three above players you would be wrong. You’d be close with Eberle, who is second in league scoring with Nugent-Hopkins not far behind in seventh. However, it’s Justin Schultz who is being chased by the AHL elite.
Heading into play Tuesday night, Schultz had eight goals and 13 assists for 21 points. That’s two more than Eberle and four more than Nugent-Hopkins. This is nothing short of amazing or is it?
Maybe I shouldn’t be as surprised considering how highly sought after Schultz was this off season. A free agent frenzy surrounded the blue-liner before he wound up choosing Edmonton. The Oilers made a pitch for his services and then hit a homerun or at least that’s the way it looks. It’s not like he hasn’t been productive before. When he played for the Westside Warriors of the BCHL he had 50 points in the last 49 games of his junior career. In his final season at Wisconsin he had 18 goals in 41 games and again averaged more than a point-a-game finishing with 44.
I guess that’s why every single NHL team had interest in acquiring his services this summer. He whittled it down to six, three and then finally one. He was listed as a high-end, offensively gifted defenceman and that’s what he’s been.
It’s also what Edmonton badly needs. They have enough potential offensive talent up front to make you drool. Hall, Eberle, RNH, and let’s not forget Nail Yakupov. Lots of skill in the forward position but not so much on the blueline.
That’s where Schultz comes in. Someone who can start or finish a play; someone who can quarterback the powerplay; someone who has offence even if he plays defence. Playing in his own end may be a challenge but early indications are that Schultz doesn’t just own one end of the ice. He’s looked good in the other team’s end and he hasn’t looked out of place in his own.
The lockout has been a good thing for the 22-year-old. Playing with his future Oilers teammates but doing so in a lesser profile, with less pressure scenario. There will be no shortage of attention and criticism once he arrives to play for the Oilers. But that’s a problem to be tackled once there is labour harmony.
Anaheim drafted him but never could sign him. It looks like a move that’s as big, if not bigger, than those the Oilers made while drafting. A lot was expected and Schultz has delivered. It’s been a smooth transition from the college game as he’s Ad-Justin just fine to life in pro hockey.