Looking at a couple of blueliners.

In the wake of today's painful yet unavoidable demotion let's take a look some things:

26 GP, 1G, 3A, +3, 2 PIM, 29 SOG, 19:48 TOI, 25.7 Shifts/G, 3:16 SH TOI/G, 23 Hits, 49 Blocked Shots, 34 Giveaways, 10 Takeaways

31 GP 1G, 7A, +7, 10 PIM,  19 SOG, 19:51 TOI, 25.5 Shifts/G, 3:27 SH TOI/G, 18 Hits, 44 Blocked Shots, 19 Giveaways, 5 Takeaways

One of those stat lines belongs to Karl Alzner (the 2 PIMs might have given that away), but the next two belong to a Mr. Jeff Schultz. Both players have been out of their normal routine at some point this year (Alzner due to promotion, Schultz to injury), and both haven't played with the same defensemen they did at the start of the year. Pretty comparable, no? As an addendum, here's Schultz' rookie year in '06-'07:

38 GP, 0G, 3A, +5, 16 PIM, 22 SOG, 18:12 TOI, 24.9 Shifts/G, 3:13 SH TOI/G, 27 hits, 59 Blocked Shots, 35 Giveaways, 12 Takeaways

His first game was on 12/22/06, following a calendar year where he went from Calgary to Hershey to the big club. Alzner's year (and change) before coming to the Caps saw him captain the Canada WJC to Gold and get named Major Junior Defenseman of the year. One could argue that Mr. Alzner has had a slightly better fast track to the bigs. Without question, he's definitely earned it, though Schultz' progression can't be ignored. 3rd on the backline this year in TOI, he's second in +/-, a temporary disappointment considering he led the team's blueliners last year. With all the woe surrounding Alzner's demotion, you know who's the youngest and least experienced defensemen for the Caps right now? You guessed it, Jeff Schultz, who is both 3 1/2 months younger than Mike Green, and has played 64 fewer NHL games than his newest defense partner.

Alzner's place among the big club in the future appears to be a certainty, but some people would suggest that Schultz' isn't as much, that the non-hitting bum should get run out of town. And yet when you look at career progressions of comparable large NHL defensemen, Chris Pronger needed a couple years of underperforming in Hartford before Mike Keenan gave him a collective kickstart, and Zdeno Chara played on a couple of atrocious New York Islanders clubs before blossoming in Ottawa.

Am I suggesting that Schultz is the next Pronger or Chara? I don't know, but with a 6-6 22 year old defensemen with barely two full seasons under his belt, playing among some talented players and teammates, I'd afford him a little more leeway than some might be giving him.

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