Following today's 4-1 win against the Jets, the Penguins fortified their blue line by acquiring defenseman Justin Schultz from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a 2016 third-round draft pick. Schultz, 25, is on a one-year contract with a salary cap hit of $3.9 million. He is scheduled to be a restricted free agent when it expires. As a condition of the trade, the Oilers will retain half of his salary cap hit.
In 45 games this seaoson, Schultz has 10 points (three goals, seven assists). A native of Kelowna, B.C., he is not expected to join the Penguins until "Wednesday or Thursday" due to the immigration process according to general manager Jim Rutherford.
The Ducks drafted Schultz in the second round (No. 43 overall) in 2008 but he never played for that organization. Following his junior season at the University of Wisconsin, Schultz opted to turn professional. By that point, Shultz was eligible to become an unrestricted free agent as the Ducks had lost exclusive signing rights to him. Several teams engaged in a bidding process for Schultz before he ultimately signed with the Oilers June 30, 2012.
Schultz has largely struggled in his four seasons with the Oilers. In 2013-14, he appeared in 74 games and set career highs with 11 goals and 33 points but his production has regressed since then. This season, he has averaged only 20:07 of ice time per game, only fourth-most among all Oilers defensemen.
Schultz joins a Penguins team which is currently playing without injured defenseman Ben Lovejoy who is sidelined long term due to a long-term injury. Additionally, reserve defenseman David Warsofsky is currently on a conditioning assignment in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as he recovers from a concussion he suffered in Jan. 15.
A few highlights:
EN Says: This is a reclamation project. At one time, Schultz was expected to be a key player who would finally provide stability to the Oilers' graveyard of a blue line. Former general manager Craig MacTavish suggested he could win a Norris Trophy. But with that organization constantly changing general managers and coaches, Schultz, like a lot of other players in Edmonton, struggled to meet his potential.
We're not sure how to fairly evaluate Schultz given Edmonton's doldrums. He's clearly a skilled player and has been able to produce a respectable amount of points at as recently as last season when he had 31 points in 81 games. But he slid down the Oilers' depth chart this season and was even a healthy scratch on a few occasions.
Going back to his days with the Hurricanes, Rutherford has never been afraid to take on a reclamation project and he has even done that in his brief tenure with the Penguins. Heck, right winger Phil Kessel is a reclamation project in some respects.
Schultz seems like a low-risk, high-reward project. Sergei Gonchar, the team's defenseman development coach will presumably work quite a bit with him. We're not sure if Gonchar, who has only been on the job for a few months, is capable of truly helping defensemen develop their game, but he'll have his work cut out with him in Schultz.
As far as his style of play, Schultz is a puck mover. He takes offensive chances and will occasionally vacate his defensive responsibility to create some offense. While his game is perhaps undisciplined, he seems like a good fit for how head coach Mike Sullivan wants defensemen to play.
An aspect of this trade which shouldn't be overlooked is Lovejoy's injury. His absence seemed to shift the Penguins' focus to fortifying their blue line. Also, like Lovejoy, Schultz is right-handed. Ian Cole, who has replaced Lovejoy for the past three games, is left handed. Presumably, Schultz will play with defenseman Derrick Pouliot, a left-handed shot.
Rutherford spoke with media following the trade. He's a partial transcript:
"He's still a pretty young guy. There's some things that he has to work on his game. We think a change of scenery for him is going to be good and we'll see how it goes. We retain his rights for at least one more year and we'll see how the fit is."
Why did he struggle with the Oilers:
"That's hard to say. That's a team that's been building with a lot of young players. They've been going through that rebuilding. Just have really a lot of young skilled players and it hasn't come all together. I think they're coming closer now. Sometimes, when you have that many young players, that can be difficult for everybody. We're hoping a change for him can be good."
Would he play with Pouliot:
"That would be two younger offensive guys playing together. That's something the coach has to sort out. We want to get as many NHL guys here so we have depth at all positions. Very good on the offensive side. Still needs some work on the defensive side."
Have the Penguins filled all their needs prior to the trade deadline:
"We're still in business. I'm not saying we're doing something else but why would we close the door when we have a couple more days here. You never know what comes up."
On giving up a draft pick and not a player in the trade:
“It's turned out when you have injuries, there's good and bad to it. The good was is we got to see some of these young guys that we believed in come in here and play. A lot of teams have been asking for our young guys. That's one thing I really wanted to stay away from."
On the Oilers retaining salary:
"It was important for them to retain some salary because we've got to be careful with our cap. As for where he fits in, time will tell. He won't even get here until Wednesday or Thursday because of immigration. It's just another option for the coach. We're going to play a lot of games in March. Hopefully we're going to play a lot of games right through to June and you need a lot of players. There will be a lot of time for everybody. "
(Photo: Derek Leung/Getty Images)