Twelve years a National Hockey Leaguer, Kraken defenseman Justin Schultz has changed very little, other than his game improving, of course.
Throughout his time in the ‘big show’ he’s stuck with some of the lessons he learned from playing three seasons for head coach Mike Eaves at the University of Wisconsin.
“I loved him,” Schultz said. “He was hard on you, but he’s just such a great human and you loved playing for him. He could fire you up pretty good, but like I said, he’s just the greatest person, really cares about every player he has and I loved playing for him.”
Schultz’s final year in Madison saw the Badgers reach the NCAA national championship game in 2010, only to lose to current teammate Brian Dumoulin’s Boston College squad 5-0 in the Frozen Four Final.
That setback was quickly forgotten as Schultz turned his attention to joining the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, the team that selected him in the 2nd-round of the draft in 2008 while he was playing junior hockey in his hometown of Kelowna, BC.
For his three-and-a-half seasons in northern Alberta, the Oilers seemed to be stuck in a perpetual rebuild.
“We just never figured it out I guess, never clicked as a team,” Schultz recalled. “Tough market to play in when you’re not doing well and obviously it was time to move on. I have no regrets from playing there, learned a lot.”
From Valley To Peak
From being one of the ‘whipping boys’ in terms of criticism from fans in Edmonton, to being the final piece of the puzzle for a Stanley Cup champion; that was Schultz’s next progression. Similar to the Colorado Avalanche adding righty D-man Josh Manson at the 2022 trade deadline en route to a title, one sensed in February of 2016 that Schultz might be just that for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I knew I was getting traded, so when I found out it was Pittsburgh, it was a pretty big thrill.”
The Penguins won the next two Stanley Cups.
As a free agent he signed with the Washington Capitals for two seasons in 2020 before signing a two-year deal with the Kraken.
A New Challenge
Schultz has sat out eight Kraken games this season, partly due to an upper body injury earlier in December and partly due to young blueliner Ryker Evans rotating into the line-up at Schultz’s expense.
Simply put, regardless of age, it’s a competition.
“He’s a great player and he’s been playing well for us,” Schultz said of rookie Evans. “We’ve been getting wins, so whoever we put in the line-up, as long as we get a win it’s all good. When I’m in, I’m trying to contribute.”
At the moment Evans is back with the AHL’s Coachella Valley Firebirds, after also filling in a game for Dumoulin. The 22-year-old is in the 2nd year of his two-way entry-level deal.
Schultz sees a bit of his younger self in Evans, a first-year player learning the NHL ropes.
“Everything’s a little bit quicker,” Schultz said, “but he’s got such great poise that when you have that poise you can hold on to that puck for an extra second and be fine. I think the biggest thing is when you’re young coming in, sometimes you’re nervous, you want to get rid of the puck too quickly, but he’s been great, making plays, contributing a lot.”
Schultz sees Evans having a great, long career; a concept to which he is very familiar. The latter could learn quite a bit from his elder; 705 NHL games and two Stanley Cups.
Schultz earns $3-million this season and if unsigned is slated to be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
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