The expectations almost doomed Justin Schultz from the start.
After he agreed to join the Edmonton Oilers as a free agent coming out of the University of Wisconsin, Schultz was said to have "Norris Trophy potential" by Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish.
Hockey-mad Edmonton immediately demanded the best from Schultz and anything less was a failure.
Nearly four years after he joined the Oilers, Schultz found himself in a very different role Sunday night.
Stanley Cup champion.
The Penguins acquired Schultz prior to the trade deadline and gave him a smaller role than the one he was expected to inhabit in Edmonton. Settling in on a third defensive pairing with defenseman Ian Cole, Schultz scored eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 18 games with the Penguins.
A healthy scratch for much of the first two rounds, he found himself getting regular work by the Eastern Conference final. In 15 postseason games, he recorded four assists, including the primary helper on defenseman Brian Dumoulin's opening goal in the Stanley Cup-clinching 3-1 victory in Game 6 against the Sharks Sunday.
"Surreal, "Schultz said on the ice of SAP Center. "You can't explain it right now. You dream about this moment as a kid. When you raise that [Stanley] Cup up... it's the best day in my life for sure.”
Recently, he talked about his journey.
Why did you chose to go the college route at Wisconsin? Not many Canadian kids opt to play NCAA hockey.
"It just gave me more time to develop and work on my game. You don't plays as many games there obviously as you do in major junior. And honestly, I didn't have many teams trying to recruit me. I was kind of just kind of playing junior trying to make my junior team and then I got recruited by college teams. I thought that was the right road for me and I thought it worked out well."
Why did you opt to leave after your junior season?
"I thought I was ready to move on. I thought I had a good first year then my next two years were really good. I felt I didn't have much more in college to do. I thought it was time for me to turn pro."
What was the entire process of being courted by NHL teams like?
"Oh that was kind of a gong show. That wasn't very much fun with all the attention it got. I didn't like that. I got to be a free agent and decide where I wanted to play, where I thought the best opportunity for me was. You don't get that opportunity that many times to be a free agent."
Why did you ultimately choose the Oilers?
"I thought it was the best opportunity for me to play right away, play a lot of minutes. And I did. I played a lot my first couple of years. The whole time there, I played a lot. Obviously, things didn't work out well with the team but I don't regret any decision."
Due to the 2012-13 lockout, you spent the first half of the season with the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League.
"That was a lot of fun. [Former first-round picks] Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and [Ryan Nugent-Hopkins], we all kind of lived in the same complex, apartment building and it was just fun playing with those guys down there. We loved the city. The team was great. We obviously had a lot of success. It was good for me to go down there and play that half year in the AHL. I would have obviously have liked to play in the NHL right away. But it was good coming from college to play in the AHL first to get adjusted to the pro game."
Your best season in the NHL was 2013-14 when you had 33 points in 74 games. What clicked that season?
"I don't know. Maybe I was shooting the puck more I think. I had some confidence. Confidence is such a big thing. Obviously, my last couple of years, I lost that and it showed. Just some confidence and putting the puck on net and being lucky enough for it to go in a couple of times."
Ultimately, what didn't' work with the Oilers?
"It's tough to say. The fans starting getting on me. The media is crazy there. It's a lot of attention. You have to expect that. But once the fans starting turning on me, I don't think there's any coming back from that. I couldn't find any consistency in Edmonton for whatever reason. I don't know. It just wasn't the right fit. I've moved on."
The team had so many different coaches in your short tie there. That couldn't have been helpful.
"Yeah, you're exactly right. It was difficult. I think I had four different coaches in four different years. I had Ralph Kruger, Dallas Eakins, Craig MacTavish coached a couple games, Todd Nelson and Todd McLellan. So that's five right there. It's not easy to get in a rhythm. Coaches have different philosophies and that. That's not an excuse but it's was tough learning new coaches and whatnot."
You seem like you're having fun here.
"Oh yeah. I love it here. I love the city. I love the team. I love the rink. I love everything. I'm playing less minutes but I think I'm playing well with those minutes. I'm a plus player right now. I'm helping the team I think."
Could you fathom anything like the Stanley Cup four months ago?
"No. Not even close. Then about a couple weeks after I started playing here, you started to realize this team was something special. We didn't lose many games after the deadline. This team was destined for a championship."
(Photos: Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)