Seattle Kraken defenseman Justin Schultz would lead the category “NHL players not talked about enough this postseason”.
Schultz just happens to share the Kraken team lead in points these Stanley Cup playoffs with nine. One might hardly notice. The 32-year-old righty seems to work quietly, yet efficiently.
“Schultzy’s playing the way he’s played all year, he’s a big piece of our group,” Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol said earlier this week. “He’s efficient at moving the puck out of the zone, he’s one of the guys that’s gonna be key for us as we work to get more production out of our power play, and he’s a great leader. I mean, he’s got a great presence about him. He’s poised, he’s calm, he’s been through this before, so he provides a lot of good veteran leadership for us.”
After missing out on the playoffs early in his career for four seasons with an Edmonton Oilers team that struggled, Schultz was shipped off to Pittsburgh just in time to win two Stanley Cups with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017. He was a key final piece of the puzzle, picked up just ahead of the trade deadline in February 2016 for a 3rd-round draft pick. That’s called a steal.
Schultz racked up 13 points in 21 playoff games during the 2017 Cup run. He had eight points in twelve playoff games the following year.
Schultz joined the Washington Capitals as a free agent in 2020 before doing the same thing with the Kraken two years later. He’s loving the experience.
He’s back next season with one year left on his contract for the reasonable salary cap hit of $3-million.
“I like our team and I like the spot we’re in, we can compete with anyone on any given night,” Schultz told us on Monday. “We’re just kind of going out and playing and having fun, don’t really feel much pressure in the dressing room.”
Although he missed nine games during the regular season, Schultz and the Kraken D-corps have been remarkably healthy overall compared to most in the NHL. It’s helped with chemistry and familiarity, Schultz presently working with Carson Soucy on the “3rd pair”. Schultz picks up additional ice time on the 2nd power play unit. Thirteen of his 34 points this regular season came with the man advantage.
“He’s got a great ability at the top of the zone to extend plays, he’s comfortable keeping tough plays, dirty pucks, he’s comfortable keeping those in the zone and then he can make the next play to keep the play alive,” Hakstol said. “It’s not just all the the eyes-up stuff where he’s able to walk the line and find a shooting lane and sift it in, it’s helping us get to that point that he’s pretty efficient.”
His efforts have been timely as well, he shared the team lead with Matty Beniers and Jordan Eberle during the regular season with four game winning goals.
Schultz is part of defense group that sometimes surprises with its offensive “dangle”. He’s just as impressed as the rest of us with some of the finish exhibited by Adam Larsson, Jamie “Big Rig” Oleksiak, and his partner Soucy this season and in these playoffs.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” Schultz responded with a chuckle. “Maybe the goalies aren’t expecting that out of us, but we’ve got some skill on the back end. You’ve seen it all year, like Rig putting the puck in the net. Lars’ has got some really nice goals this year. We just try to contribute when we can. We’ve got a lot of skill up front, so whenever we can help, it’s a good thing for us.”
Patience, skating ability, grace under pressure. Schultz’s Kraken teammates and coaches recognize those attributes in him, whether it’s keeping pucks in the offensive zone or transitioning out of his own.
“It’s one thing to do it when you have no pressure, it’s a completely different animal when you have pressure coming to you, which at this time of year normally you do,” Hakstol added. “He’s does a nice job in that area.”
The current challenge is a deep, veteran, talented Dallas Stars forward group, led by the likes of captain Jamie Benn and tip-wizard Joe Pavelski, who has six goals in the series.
“They throw a lot of pucks at the net, they’ve got a lot of guys that go to the net hard, and they’re really good at tipping pucks, so for us as D-men, just trying to box out as best we can and let “Grooby” (goalie Philipp Grubauer) see it,” Schultz said. “(Our) forwards are doing a great job getting in lanes and I think breaking pucks out and spending the least amount of time as possible in our D-zone is is key against these guys.”
The next Kraken test; Thursday night in Dallas for Game-5 with the series tied 2-2.