Penguins hope change of scenery benefits defenseman Schultz
March 3, 2016 12:00 AM
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
The Penguins acquired Justin Schultz from the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday.
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
Penguins assistant coach Jacques Martin will oversee the team's efforts to resurrect defenseman Justin Schultz's career.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The expectations are different this time.
The Penguins did not acquire Justin Schultz from Edmonton Saturday because they view him as a potential Norris Trophy winner or a cornerstone of their defense corps.
They will be content if the return on their investment, a third-round draft choice, turns out to be a guy who skates and moves the puck well while being reasonably effective in his own end.
A lot more was expected of Schultz when he joined Edmonton as a free agent in 2012. He was projected to be a difference-maker, someone whose offensive skills would complement the talents of the young forwards the Oilers were beginning to collect.
“He was a highly touted prospect,” said Penguins assistant coach Jacques Martin, who works extensively with the defense. “He had some great offensive ability coming out of college. He showed that in the early part, with the Oilers.”
But by the time the Penguins traded for him, Schultz was viewed as a liability in Edmonton. His contributions to the offense were nothing special, and he was passive in his own end.
He had three goals, seven assists and a team-worst plus-minus rating of minus-22 in 45 games with the Oilers this season. Schultz clearly needed to get out of Edmonton; the issue now is whether the change will have a positive impact on his play.
He is supposed to be available when the Penguins face the New York Rangers tonight at Consol Energy Center, but it is not known whether he will be in the lineup. The Penguins had a day off Wednesday, and Schultz has yet to practice with them.
Martin seems confident that Schultz’s offensive game will dovetail nicely with the Penguins’ style — “We’re trying to move the puck out of our zone quickly. He fits that mold” — and said the coaching staff will assess, then address, the weaknesses in his defensive play.
“You have to evaluate where he’s at,” Martin said. “We’ll see what areas he needs to improve on. A lot of times, when you talk about defensive play, a lot of it is awareness. [Knowing] where people are, learning about boxing out, making sure you’re on the defensive side of the puck.”
Schultz is 6 foot 2, 193 pounds and can be physically overmatched by some forwards. Martin, though, noted there are ways to counter disadvantages in size and strength.
“There are different ways of playing defense,” he said. “You look at the [Chicago] Blackhawks defense, for instance. They’re not big, but they’re very mobile and they’re strong on their sticks.
“If you’re not going to push people out — if you don’t have the size to push people out — you have to make sure you’re on the inside of them and that you’re going to control their stick. That’s what Chicago does really well.
“They’re not a banging defense, but they’re very mobile. They’re strong on the stick, they have good body position and they compete.”
The Penguins not only will try to upgrade Schultz’s defensive work, but also restore his confidence, which was battered as his career progressed in Edmonton.
“It’s a matter of trying to give him some support, give him some direction and give him some short-term goals and work with him on a daily basis,” Martin said.
The Penguins brought in Schultz because of the undisclosed injury that has sidelined Ben Lovejoy, but if they can get his game in order, the move could have long-term benefits.
“I think he’s going to be a great asset,” Martin said. “A great help to our defense.”
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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