Edmonton Oiler’s defenseman Justin Schultz came into the league with a lot of hype and expectation. He started his pro career with a bang being at the top of the AHL scoring list for months, even after the NHL season had started.
He continued his strong play for the Oilers and has been in the Calder Trophy conversation since the day the season started. For the first half of the year he was the Oilers ice time leader, was in the top 10 in defensemen scoring and was running the power play as well as a seasoned veteran.
He is still running the power play and logging big minutes, but he has hit the rookie wall to a certain extent. He is still playing top four minutes, but is no longer the runaway leader as Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid have re-assumed their top pairing role.
His stats amongst rookies still warrant consideration as he is sixth in scoring with 20 points, which also leads all defensemen and is second in ice time behind only Minnesota’s Jonas Brodin and still leads in power play time.
The production has dipped, though, as he has just seven points in his last 20 games and the number that may hurt him most of all is his -12 rating.
The fact is that Schultz is one of the elite talents in this year’s rookie class and all signs point to him having a long and very productive NHL career as a top pairing defenseman. The fact that he has hit the wall a little is not all that surprising as it’s normal for players who have never played a full professional schedule. They can succumb to the rigors as the season progresses.
Even with a shortened NHL season, with so many games in a condensed schedule, Schultz has played 39 NHL games and 34 AHL games before that. For a player coming from college playing at most 40+ games a year, the 73 pro games is far more than he’s used to.
Even players coming from major juniors play at least 60+ as part of their season.
Schultz still has nine games left to make a push and put himself back to the top of the list, as do many other candidates. This year is one where there isn’t a clear cut favorite and with a good week anyone could jump into contention. On top of the four names mentioned, there are players like the Oilers Nail Yakupov, Montreal‘s Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk who could easily still jump into the conversation.
While Justin Schultz may have fallen from his perch as a guaranteed nominee for the award in the least, he is still in the race and with a good finish to the year could put him right back to the top.
The Oilers hope that will be the case as they will need Schultz if they have any hope of still pushing for a playoff spot.