Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 11/28/13
At this stage, 65 games into his NHL career, Edmonton Oilers defenceman Justin Schultz is no Erik Karlsson or P.K. Subban — he’s not yet the young swashbuckling blueliner the Ottawa Senators or the Montreal Canadiens enjoy in those two, respectively. Oilers fans have hoped for that from Schultz, whom the Oilers signed as a prized free agent in the summer of 2012, but he’s not there yet as he and his team face the host Nashville Predators on Thursday. Schultz is not leading forays as Karlsson and Subban do. He is not as dynamic today as he was hyped because he is still learning how to play when he doesn’t have the puck. The balance in these early days for Schultz is defending capably while also doing what he does best — what the Oilers so badly wanted him for as a free-agent in 2012 — and that’s getting the puck into the other team’s end. The Oilers pulled out all the stops to convince Schultz to sign here, including a call from legend Paul Coffey, because they loved Schultz’s penchant for joining the rush or leading it at the University of Wisconsin, and he did all of that with the Oklahoma City Barons during the NHL lockout. But the 23-year-old is still in his infancy as an NHL defenceman. He’s a long way from being as freewheeling as Karlsson or Subban, even with his skating and passing acumen. It must be pointed out that Karlsson, 23, had 27 and 45 points his first two years, however. Subban, 24, had 38 and 36 points his first seasons. So Schultz, with 10 points in 17 games this year and 27 in 45 last season, is in their league points-wise. He is still learning to defend — absolutely a must if you are going to be an NHL defenceman — although what made Coffey so good was his ability to get the puck into the other end. What the Oilers are searching for, of course, is a totally defensive defenceman such as big Marc Methot, who covers Karlsson’s backside as his partner in Ottawa, or an extremely savvy Andrei Markov, who can look after things as Subban takes off on a Canadiens attack. The Oilers have paired Anton Belov with Schultz. They have had Andrew Ference line up alongside the B.C. native. Last year, they put Nick Schultz with his last-namesake. Whoever it is, the Oilers probably need somebody to free up Schultz, to really do what he does best: Create odd-man attacks with his speed and his passing ability. Schultz admits he’d like to be like Karlsson or like Subban, but “you have to pick your spots ... that’s what I’m doing right now.” “If you are jumping up and there’s nothing developing, you’re just putting your team in danger of an odd-man rush,” he said. When Schultz was in college, he was always the fourth guy or leading the rush. “That’s what got me here and I’m not going to stop doing that,” he said, but he absolutely is taking the temperature of the game. “If you’re up by two goals, you’re not jumping up, if you’re down two or they’re giving you room, then sure, you go. I’m not forcing anything out there.”
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