I had a bit of a Eureka moment the other day as I was sifting through scouting reports and doing some research for the 2010 DobberHockey Prospects Report. I found a prospect that is not drafted in my league, not on my list of assigned players for the prospects report, and – more importantly -- has some decent upside.
Since I’d rather not use this column to profile players who we’ll be featuring in our upcoming Prospects Report, I was pretty happy to find this little nugget in the Anaheim system. His name is Justin Schultz.
I’m not saying that Schultz is under the radar. He was named to the WCHA all-rookie team this season, so the secret’s out now. But there aren’t too many people who thought he would come in as a rookie and become an integral part of the Badgers’ power play. Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves is one notable exception, though.
As Andy Baggot reports in this great profile on Madison.com (http://bit.ly/9SLKgu), Eaves thought Schultz had the skills to work on the power play as a freshman even though the Badgers had one of the best blue line corps in NCAA Division 1 hockey.
What’s amazing is that not only did he see Schultz as a contributor; he thought his “uncommon poise” made him an ideal future power play quarterback. “He sees the ice and you don’t teach that,” Eaves told Madison.com. “He has patience. He has that cold blood that doesn’t get nervous when he’s back there on the blue line. It’s a specialty place on your power play. You can’t put everybody there because you need to have vision, you need to be calm and he is those things.”
When he arrived in Madison, Schultz immediately began to draw comparisons to former Badger Jamie McBain – a Carolina Hurricanes’ prospect. They were both second round picks, both are right-handed shots – which helps a bit because they’re a minority at the NHL level – but, more importantly, they have offensive skills and vision that you just can’t teach.
After a six, goal, 16-assist season in which he scored five times with the man advantage, Schultz was named to the WCHA all-rookie team. Skinny, 17-year-old offensive defencemen who need to work on their defence are common. What separates the ones who make the NHL from the ones who are career minor leaguers or destined to work for a living like the rest of us chumps is how well they develop – and that can be difficult to predict.
Picking up on little details about a player’s game helps you figure out how hard they are going to work to improve their defence and get stronger. It also helps to know how smart a player is – does he have the hockey sense to apply his skills at higher levels.
The Anaheim Ducks saw enough in Schultz to draft him 43rd overall in 2008. (He was ranked 42nd in ISS final rankings that year, but some scouts thought he was worthy of a first-round selection). They drafted him after Jake Gardiner, Schultz’s teammate with the Wisconsin Badgers. That year was Schultz’s rookie year in the BCHL with the Westside Warriors (Kelowna. B.C.) and he won Interior Conference defenceman of the year honours as a rookie with nine goals and 31 assists in 57 games (0.70 ppg). The next year, he boosted his production to 15 goals and 35 assists in 49 games (1.02 ppg) and played for Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge.
In his draft year, Schultz was listed at six-feet tall and weighed just 163 pounds – not very big for a defenceman – even one tabbed as an offensive weapon.
But to paraphrase a grizzled scout who once told me, “A lot of us are a little bit on the skinny side at 17.” Well, Schultz has grown and now stands at six-foot-two and weighs 185 pounds according to the Wisconsin Badgers website. There’s still some room to grow, too. Shultz will be 20 this summer and expect him to weight about 190-200 pounds by the time he reaches the NHL.
Schultz says he patterns his game after Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer and that should give you a pretty good indication of how he plays. He’s a slick, mobile defenceman who generates offense with vision and poise with the puck. He loves to jump into the rush and has enough speed to motor back when one of his forays doesn’t work out.
Schultz took over Jake Gardiner’s spot on power play with Wisconsin and will get more time next year as Cody Goloubef and Brendan Smith are both turning pro. He should be the top dog on the Badgers power play next season and expect him to turn pro after that.
With one year in the AHL for seasoning, he could be in the NHL as early as 2012.
Upside: 10-40-50 with low PIMs.