Wednesday, May 28, 2008

2007-08 Rink Wrap: Jeff Schultz

From Backstrom to Steckel, we're taking a quick look at and grading the 2007-08 season for every player* who laced 'em up for the Caps during the campaign (and is still with the team) with an eye towards 2008-09. Next up, Jeff Schultz.

Contract Status: 2008-09 salary of $650,000 (cap hit of $763,888.89 or $750,000, depending upon whom you believe); RFA after 2008-09 season
Age (as of October 1, 2008): 22
NHL Seasons (including 2007-08): 1+
2007-08 Regular Season Stats: 72 games played, 5 goals, 13 assists, +12, 28 PIMs
Key Stat: Schultz lead all Caps blueliners in plus/minus.
Don't Forget: Schultz is more than four months younger than Mike Green and more than five months younger than Alex Ovechkin.

The Good: With just 38 NHL games under his belt entering the season, Schultz stepped in and lead the D in plus/minus (for a second conecutive season) averaged more than 18 minutes of ice time, tied for second among Caps defensemen in goals and was third in points among that group. Surprisingly (to me, at least), Schultz was on the ice for the fourth-most goals for per sixty minutes of ice time of any skater on the team, behind only Ovechkin, Viktor Kozlov and Nicklas Backstrom. And while it may not always look pretty, Schultz now has a career plus-17 rating in 110 NHL games (this after totalling a plus-21 rating in the AHL and a plus-45 career in the WHL). Back to 2007-08, Schultz's shooting percentage was tops among Caps rearguards, he was third on the team in blocked shots and had the fewest PIMs per game of any of the team's defensemen. Oh, and he tied for the team lead in faceoff percentage. Schultz had four goals in a six-game stretch in December and had a plus-rating in each of the season's final four months (and a plus-16 rating in his final 43 games if the regular season).

The Bad: Schultz had the second-worst takeaway-to-giveaway ratio on the club (only Milan Jurcina was worse) and took the fewest shots per game on the team. He is currently on a 45-game goal-less streak and was healthy-scratched four times (though only once after November).

The Vote: Rate Schultz on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.

The Questions: What role do you see Schultz having on the 2008-09 Caps? What will it take for him to earn a 10 rating next year?

If you've missed any of the previous 2007-08 Rink Wraps, click here, get caught up, and vote - polls will stay open for a while.

* And by "every," we mean every one who played more than just a handful of games.


JP said...

As we get further away from the season, it gets easier to grade these guys based on numbers and not gut reactions or what our eyes told us. I'm not sure whether or not this is a good thing.

sheesh said...

i was just going to say jp, his numbers look pretty nice, and he did pick his game up the second half, but i cant get over how amazingly frustrated i was with him for a while and those feelings still surface at times. with that said, i gave him a 6, and if he continues to improve along the same trajectory, those moments of disgust will be few and far between. another huge plus, you cant teach height, youre either a 6'7" giant, or youre not.

the deuce said...

I think he's still on his entry-level contract, so hopefully he splits time between DC and Hershey next year. I just think he needs more seasoning in the AHL. And what I mean by that is he needs to hit the weight room BIG TIME and put on some weight. 6'7" is not at all intimidating when you hit like Tomas Fleischmann. That said, Schultz was steady in his defensive end, and could have been much worse for a second-year defenseman who had no business being in the NHL. I'm willing to give him a 5. I think Alzner's probably ascent to the big club will mean that somebody who played last year won't play this year, and Schultz's contract status makes him the perfect guy to send down -- cause we know it's not going to be Green!

Tyler said...

He did what you want your young players to do: He developed. (He also has developed the way you want a young D to develop: D first.)

In the last 40 or so games he was super-solid. Is the offense there? Not consistently. Is he as physical as we'd like? No. (But as noted here ad absurdem: This is an overrated trait. There are commenters here who would hate Nick Lidstrom.) At this time last year who expected him to be a reliable top-four D by now? Not me. So (relative to expectations) I gave him an 8.

Tyler said...

Deuce: That's a joke, right? Right?!

JP said...

Personally, I don't think time in the AHL would do Schultz any good at this point. He needs to be able to deal with legitimate NHL talent, not thugs and waterbugs who'll never make the show.

Mike in SF said...

Three key truths about Jeff Schultz:

Schultz had only 28 PIMs (best on the team for defensemen who played half a season or more)
Hits don't win games.
He's only 22.

Some folks have an absolute obsession with Schultz's height and size, such that they can't see him as the player he is. Schultz DOES use his body effectively. His long reach and size gives him some serious advantages in the position-based game that he plays.

I can't help comparing Jeff to a much more highly touted defensive prospect, who in his age 21 season played 44 games, had 5 points, 88 PIMs and a minus 20 rating. That's Brendan Witt. You want to play some other sport where hits are worth goals, take that guy. For hockey, I'll take Jeff Schultz over Brendan Witt every single day.

sheesh said...

6'7" is not all about intimidation, its about taking up a hell of a lot more defensive space than if youre over a half foot shorter

NS said...

dude can't skate worth shit. gave him a 4, but thats more of an opinion than a numbers thing.

b.orr4 said...

For starters, the only way Schultz is going to see Hershey next season is if he's visiting the chocolate factory. Jeff is a keeper, the type of defenseman who's going to keep getting better and better. His greatest asset is also his greatest hindrance and that's his size. At 6'7", it's going to take him some time to grow into his body both from a coordination standpoint and a strength standpoint. But once he does, he has the potential to become a dominating defenseman. No he'll never be a big hitter. That's not his game and, as Tyler pointed out, it's not Nik Lidstrom's and noone's complaining about him. But he has an attribute that's rare in a lot of defensemen, the ability to stay cool in pressure situations and make the right play with minimal effort. I'll take that skill set any day over the guys who go for the big hit. Does he make mistakes? Sure, but every young defenseman does and they're more obvious when you're 6'7". If we all just give the kid some time and not hound him out of town like we did Larry Murphy (remember him,the guy who's in the Hall of Fame?), I think we'll have a top-four defenseman for a lot of years to come.

JP said...

Once we can all accept what he is (positionally sound) and isn't (a crusher), we can have a reasonable discussion about his skill level (yes, his skating needs work, yes, his first pass needs work, etc.).

But if we sit here and wait for him to become the next Zdeno Chara, well, it ain't gonna happen (and how's that working out on the Jurcina front?).

I have no problem with Schultz in my top 4 Ds, and absolutely love him in the third pairing.

Bottom line: all the guy has done at every level is rack up the plus. At 22, he is at an absolute minimum not a liability. That's saying something.

Jesus... look at me, the big Jeff Schultz advocate. Who woulda thunk it?

Tyler said...

I like borr4's Larry Murphy comparison. A lot.

JP said...

I'm not sure how on board I am with the Murphy comparison. When the Caps got Murphy (in a trade involving Brian Engblom, I might add), he was in his fourth season, hadn't scored fewer than 60-something points in any of his three seasons and had set the rookie record for points by a defenseman (which still stands).

But I do agree to the extent that some measure of patience is warranted with Schultz, though how much patience should you really require with a 22-year-old who has lead the team's D's in plus/minus since becoming an NHLer?!

dcrock said...

He hits like a pillow and when he falls down he looks like a mattress. If he can "grow in to his body" and put on some muscle like everyone says he should and keep improving in all key areas as he seems to be so far, my 5 this year goes way up next year. That is not saying he should turn in to Chara, but just lose SOME of his fluffiness, please.

the deuce said...

Boy, you guys act like I'm standing outside the castle with a pitchfork. I think I mentioned that he was steady on the defensive end. If he keeps improving, he will be a top-six defenseman. But let's hold up on the love-fest shall we? Also, you lose a bit of credibility when you say there are commenters here who would hate Lidstrom. That's rediculous. Lidstrom is quite possibly the greatest defensemen of his generation, and he IS physical, and much, much more so that Schultz. I also take exception to the comments that hits don't win games. That is simply dead wrong. Scott Stevens won the Devils multiple CUPS with big hits...forwards were afraid to cross the middle of the ice. Look what Kronwall is doing to the Pittsburgh right wings -- you think he doesn't have them looking up ice rather than looking back for the breakout pass. At this stage in his career, I would ABSOLUTELY take Witt over Schultz. (if age were not a factor, of course). Witt is a top-2 pairing defenseman who plays with snarl and keeps opposing forwards honest. You would not have seen Hartnell and Umberger running over Huet with him patrolling the crease. The same cannot be said for Schultz.
JP, why can't Schultz become Zdeno Chara? Zdeno Chara himself didn't become Zdeno Chara until at least his FIFTH year in the league. Remember, that's why they ran him out of NY. And it wasn't until his fourth year that his PIMs spiked above 100. So I actually think snarl can be taught. I think Schultz is developing very well for a young, inexperienced defenseman who was rushed to the NHL, and who has no veteran D-man to help him learn the ropes (besides perhaps Poti).
Finally, since everyone thinks it's
so rediculous to send Green back to Hershey, here's the Caps' D Corps for next year: Poti, Green, Morrison, Alzner, Eminger, Erskine, (Pothier), Lepisto, Jurcina, Schultz. That's 10. Only Lepisto, Alzner, and Schultz are on entry-level deals that allows you to shuffle them up and down without waivers. And that's before we make the trade to get ourselves the big, nast, veteran, bruising defensemen we've been dying for (yeah, right).

the deuce said...

Obviously, I meant to say it's not so rediculous to send Schultz back to Hershey, not Green. Oops.

JP said...

Did anyone really see anything from Lepisto in his brief audition that lead them to believe he's ready to be an NHL defenseman? I certainly did not.

As for Chara growing into his toughness, he had seven fights in his first 84 NHL games. Schultz has zero in 110. That doesn't tell the whole story on physicality, of course, but I think it's a pretty decent indicator of what's to come.

JP said...

And I wouldn't disagree at all with the point that hits can win games and that it's nice to have a booming intimidator on the backline... but that isn't and never will be Schultz, insofar as I can tell.

the deuce said...

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think you're right. Schultz won't be back in Hershey. Here's how I see the D situation play out as it currently stands:
Erskine/Jurcina/Eminger rotate out of the stands to fill in for injuries, although Eminger's probably gone.
But you can see the problem here. Schultz by default is now a top-pair defensemen, which he's not ready for. Based on potential, I'd say put Alzner up there, but come on, it's the guy's first NHL season. I do think playing with our only serviceable veteran defensemen would be good for Alzner, but, oh well. Did I mention we need to acquire a veteran banger?

breed16 said...

Anything less than an 8 for Shultz is lies! Raise your hand if you thought he'd even make the team out of camp.

Shultz is a polarizing figure amongst Caps fans because his style flies in the face of his size. The Shultz Debate is really an embodiment of the Defensive Philosophy Debate. You have the old school punch-em-in-the-mouth advocates vs. the advocates of the "new" NHL defenseman: positionally disciplined and smart (and ideally a great skater with stick skills).

The Shultz Debate also embodies the impatience and unrealistic demands of Caps fans: unless you're named Stevens or Langway, you sucked and always will suck, and you're a goddamned pussy (unless you're Brendan Witt, who, by the way, sucks.)

Shultz is 22 and brings a lot more positive than negative. He ain't going anywhere and he's only going to get better. Until every Caps' wet dream comes true and our D Corps is comprised of 3 Stevens clones and 3 Langway clones, the Jeff Shultzes of the world are going to have to hold it down. Some day Shultz is going to score a huge goal in the playoffs and knock someone on their ass mid-ice, and when the haters are ready I'll be here serving up the crow.

Shaggy said...

Not that it matters but a few of us defended Schultz (after being more than a little surprised he had made the big club - and STAYED, despite his non-physical stature and marginal skating. Smart kid - being on the right side of plus/minus is golden for young blueliners - I'm happy for Jeff and his half slapper.

JP said...

For what it's worth, here's how I see it roster-wise (not necessarily playing time-wise):

52, 26, 3, 55, 23, 4 (definites)
44 (probable)
Alzner, UFA (possible)
2, 42 (doubtful)

You say that "Schultz by default is now a top-pair defensemen, which he's not ready for," and I agree with the first part, but not the second. He played 18+ minutes last year and was a +12. To me he's ready for a top 4 spot (though I'd rather he be in the third pairing in favor of a UFA in the second pairing, but I'd also rather Marian Hossa be the top line RW than Viktor Kozlov, which is only slightly less likely to happen) until he proves he can't handle it.

And I'd almost bet that Pothier plays as many games for the Caps as Lepisto does, but I'm not quite that bold.

Tyler said...

What, you don't like Boumedienne-Lepisto as the Caps' third pairing?

the deuce said...

I never said Schultz sucked. I have been pleasantly surprised with his quick development. JP, you just agreed with me while saying you disagreed. I think. Schultz is not ready to be the #2 defensemen on the top D pair with Poti. I'd much rather he be 5 or 6 (since I think Poti is #1, and Green and Morrison are #s 3 and 4). Actually, I'd rather he were 7 or 8, but that would mean we had a much deeper D corps. The problem is that the Caps "went young" with their D during the rebuild, and two years later, they're still young. It's not anybody's fault, it was just a conscious decision on McPhee's part to develop our own D. Ideally, you would bring one or two of these guys up for 35-40 games a year to get them experience playing with a veteran blueliner who could mentor them, like Blake does for Johnson, Calle did for Witt, etc. We couldn't afford to do that. Look at Anaheim, San Jose, Dallas, Detroit, etc. Those teams have room for one or two young D a year, at most. We have SEVEN! And you can do well enough with those guys in the regular season, but as we saw in the playoffs, "all your warts get exposed" and you take your lumps with the kids. Honestly, how many of you were not frustrated at the continued runs at our goalie, knowing the boys weren't going to do anything about it? I remember folks here posting Olie should be put in so HE could do something about it. Just stuff you learn through experience. And yes, it's a slow day at work.

JP said...

Deuce, I think we're close to on the same page with Schultz - pair him with Poti - but maybe not on which pairing that is. To me, Green and Mo are the top pairing, Poti's in the second with Schultz.

And I agree on mentoring - important for Alzner, as I think I noted in yesterday's comments. I'd love to see Alzner with Poti, but don't think Alzner is ready for Poti minutes and don't think we want to limit Poti. So if Alzner's ready, I think you'd see something like Poti and Alzner together for most of a game, with Alzner getting very limited special teams time to keep his minutes and responsibility down, and Schultz moving up from a third pairing in crunch time. If Alzner's not ready, giving Schultz full second-pairing minutes (say, 20), is fine by me, though that third pairing then starts to look a little rough.

the deuce said...

Yeah, but Green and Mo scare me as a top pairing. I mean for crying out loud, what are they, 22 and 23? Green is an amazing talent, but shouldn't your top D unit include someone who's been in the league at least more than one tenth as long as Chelios?!

bigonetimer said...

I gave him a 7 for the year, and he still has a big upside at 22. Forget the offense--that will come. At his age you want to see progression on the defensive side and he definitely made strides there. However, for him to get a 7 or better next year, he needs to improve his skating and moving the puck more quickly and with more confidence out of the defensive zone. I have no doubt he will be a top 6 D man for us next year and beyond.

usiel said...

I gave Schultz a 6. As someone already commented on his height can lead people to automatically assume he'll a Chara-type dman physically wise. I get frustrated that he doesn't use his size (even though he is still skinny) and tries to use finesse. I think he improved in that this past season compared to the previous but still needs work. Would love to see him gain at least an extra 10 pounds this off season which would help greatly. He obviously needs to work on his first pass but he has developed remarkably fast on the mental side of handling D (one must admit). Playing D in the NHL is arguably the hardest position to learn and when dealing with young D prospects there has to be some patience. Barring a trade or something unexpected he'll be with the big club come September.

Lepisto didn't look ready yet for the NHL. He needs a little more weight and the speed of the NHL seemed to catch him by surprise. To me he is an injury call up if Green/Poti go down (PP help). Lepisto is better on the offensive side than the defensive side atm.

Ogre said...

When did he grow an inch? I could have sworn he was 6'6".

I don't care if he becomes a punishing bruiser. If he's going to be a positional defenseman, that's fine. As long as he stops the other team from scoring, I don't care how he does it.

billy said...

6. The stats tell me otherwise, but I still hate this guy's game. He's slow and gets pushed around and abused by guys half his size, and it seems like he gets burned every other shift.

Are the stats lying to me, or am I just being obtuse here?

billy said...

Also, compating Schultz to Lidstrom? Come on, dudes. Get back to me when Schultz learns to skate, pass, and score.