[Ed. note: A large portion of the credit for this post has to go to Japers' Rink members Bald Pollack, Yoshietree, and Fehr and Balanced, whose Fan Posts "Looking at a couple of blueliners" and "Comparing Jeff Schultz", and Fan Shot on one of Schultz's former teammates helped to lay the groundwork for this post.]
Recently, we've devoted time and space to taking closer looks at the play of Capitals defensemen Tom Poti, Mike Green, and John Erskine. Today we look at Jeff Schultz, who is quite possibly the most underrated player on the team, owing in large part to his style of play, which, as a very intelligent hockey mind noted, results in Schultz being nearly invisible when he's being effective and impossible to miss when he makes mistakes. That, coupled with the notably non-physical style Schultz plays despite his 6'6'', 221 pound frame and his modest offensive numbers, means that the 23-year-old blueliner's contributions can be easy to miss. But don't be so easily misled - just because you hear nothing or see nothing doesn't mean there's nothing there. Jeff Schultz is a good NHL defenseman and that he's only going to get better.
Let's start by taking a look at the first assertion. Jeff Schultz's primary job right now with the Capitals is to prevent the opposition from scoring, which also means that, in essence, Jeff Schultz's job is to not make mistakes during the time he's on the ice. It is in large part due to this fact that Schultz's game lacks flash. His devotion to positioning, getting in passing lanes, and avoiding turnovers means he doesn't shoot much, doesn't make try for long breakout passes on a regular basis, and hits less than you might expect for a man his size. This doesn't mean Schultz doesn't use his size to his advantage, though, as he often uses his long reach to make life difficult for opposing forwards by winning the puck off them or by blocking shooting or passing lanes. It might not sound like Schultz's task of playing a regular shift without making any glaring mistakes is easy, but the reality is that there are very few guys who can do it as a defenseman at the NHL level.
With that in mind, let's take a look at how Schultz's numbers compare to the teammates he has been playing with in his NHL career. A couple of notes on this table: the numbers in parenthesis are Schultz's rank among qualifying defensemen, of which there were seven in 2006-07 and 2007-08 and eight in 2008-09. For the sake of simplicity, we've constructed the table so that the rankings are done from best to worst, rather than just high to low.
|Games||38 (7)||72 (4)||50 (4)|
|Goals||0 (7)||5 (t-2)||1 (t-5)|
|Assists||3 (7)||13 (3)||10 (t-2)|
|Points||3 (7)||18 (3)||11 (t-4)|
|Plus-Minus||5 (t-1)||12 (1)||14 (2)|
|PIMs||16 (1)||28 (2)||14 (t-1)|
||.42 (1)||.39 (1)||.28 (1)|
|ATOI||18:12 (4)||18:05 (5)||19:51 (3)|
|ATOI (PK)||3:13 (3)||3:10 (3)||3:27 (2)|
|Giveaways/Game||.92 (6)||.69 (4)||.58 (2)|
|Takeaways/Game||.32 (4)||.32 (7)||.16 (6)|
|Hits/Game||.71 (6)||.85 (5)||.72 (6)|
|Blocked Shots/Game||1.55 (3)||1.25 (3)||1.5 (6)|
|Corsi||-||5.4 (5)||0.4 (7)|
|GF On/60||2.10 (6)||2.82 (1)||3.30 (2)|
|GA On/60||1.57 (2)||2.29 (3)||2.51 (6)|
|BTN Rating||-||0.42 (2)||0.38 (2)|
|Qual. Comp.||-0.035 (4)
||-0.00 (4)||0.04 (2)|
|Qual. Team.||0.00 (6)||0.10 (3)||0.16 (t-1)|
By the numbers Schultz does pretty well compared with his teammates, especially in the Behind the Net stats, although he does very well in plus-minus and fairly well in offensive production too. Schultz is above average league-wide in plus-minus, team adjusted plus-minus, behindthenet.ca rating, ES GA On/60, ES GF On/60, blocked shots, and penalties - just about everything other than hits.
The common counterargument is that Schultz is a player who looks better on paper than he really is. We wouldn't disagree that Schultz isn't exactly pretty to watch on the ice - he's all arms and legs and Heaven knows he isn't a very graceful skater - we just tend to think it doesn't really matter all that much. The age old adage in hockey is "they don't ask how, they just ask how many", i.e. that actual production is more important than looking good, and it's true. Dominik Hasek's style of goaltending often consisted of flailing around in the crease wildly, but it won him six Vezina Trophies and two MVP awards. Dave Andreychuk and Phil Esposito built Hall of Fame caliber careers largely by putting away garbage goals. After 392 career home runs and seven all-star appearances Vladimir Guerrero still looks like a toddler swinging at a wiffle ball in the backyard. Kurt Warner and Tom Brady both have the sidearm throwing style that NFL coaches and scouts regard as a red flag when they see it in college players. Production trumps style any day of the week, and Jeff Schultz is a productive NHL player.
What's also important to remember when it comes to Schultz is that he's a young player a position that takes longer to learn in a frame that it takes longer to become comfortable with. To illustrate that, here's how Schultz's numbers to this point in his career compare with some other defensemen of similar stature. Please note that these statistics are designed to demonstrate that defense with large frames generally take a while to develop, not to suggest Schultz will wind up like any of these guys. Players included are all players 6'5'' or taller and at least 29 years old.
Zdeno Chara (6'9'', 255 pounds, drafted 56th overall in 1996)
|Dukla Trencin U18||94-95||Slvk U18||17||30||22||22||44||1.47||-||113||-||-||-||-|
|Dukla Trencin Jr.
|HK VTJ Piestany||95-96||Slvk-2||18||10||1||3||4||0.40||-||10||-||-||-||-|
|HC Sparta Praha Jr.||95-96||Czech Jr||18||15||1||2||3||0.20||-||42||-||-||-||-|
|Prince George Cougers
|New York Isl.
|New York Isl.||98-99||NHL||21||59||2||6||8||0.14||-8||83||0||56||.036||18:54|
|New York Isl.||99-00||NHL||22||65||2||9||11||0.17||-27||57||0||47||.072||22:52|
|New York Isl.||00-01||NHL||23||82||2||7||9||0.11||-27||157||0||83||.024||22:20|
Mike Commodore (6'5'', 228 pounds, drafted 42nd overall in 1999)
|U. North Dakota
|U. North Dakota||98-99||WCHA||19||39||5||8||13||0.33||-||154||-||-||-||-|
|U. North Dakota||99-00||WCHA||20||38||5||7||12||0.32||-||154||-||-||-||-|
Jassen Cullimore (6'5'', 235 pounds, drafted 29th overall in 1991)
Hal Gill (6'7'', 250 pounds, drafted 207th overall in 1993)
|Nashoba High School
Marik Malik (6'6'', 235 pounds, drafted 72nd overall in 1993)
|TJ Vitkovice Jr.||92-93||Czech Jr||17||20||5||10||15||0.75||-||16||-||-||-||-|
|Beast of New Haven||98-99||AHL||23||21||2||8||10||0.48||-7||28||-||39||0.51||-|
Andy Sutton (6'6'', 245 pounds, undrafted)
In the case of each of these players significant progress was made as the players were in the mid twenties, a trend that holds for many other defensemen with large frames including Mike Komisarek, Filip Kuba, and Sheldon Souray. Once again, the point is not that Schultz is on his way to becoming any of these players in particular, but to demonstrate that for a defenseman with Schultz's build, it's reasonable to expect more development.
And there you have it - a mountain of evidence that says Jeff Schultz is a quality NHL player. So the next time someone tries to tell you otherwise, drop a little knowledge on them, and if they try to tell them it's because he doesn't hit, ask them if that's why Nicklas Lidstrom and Scott Niedermayer never amounted to much at the NHL level.