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Get to Know a Penguin (Again): Justin Schultz

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As part of the build-up to the second-round playoff series between the Capitals and the Penguins, Japers' Rink will be looking at some of the important Pittsburgh players and how they might impact the series.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Schultz

#4 / Defenseman / Pittsburgh Penguins

Height: 6-2 | Weight: 193 | Born: July 6, 1990

Birthplace: Kelowna, BC, CAN | Drafted: 43rd, 2008 (Anaheim)

Assets: Can often act as a fourth forward on the ice, thanks to supreme offensive instincts and excellent mobility from the back end. A natural with the puck on his blade, he produces plenty of offense. Is a natural power-play QB, too.

Flaws: Is wildly inconsistent. Has major holes in his defensive game, which can at times negate his offensive assets. Lacks the physical strength to effectively handle big NHL forwards at the highest level. Plays a passive game at times.

Career Potential: Talented offensive defenseman. (Assets, Flaws and Career Potential via The Hockey News player page)

Career 40-Game Rolling Five-on-Five CF% (via Muneeb):

2016-17 Usage Chart (via Corsica):

Why you should know who he is: We wrote a “Get to Know” Justin Schultz post just last year, but the 2016-17 version of Schultz is very, very different from the 2015-16 version. Last year, Schultz was an essential afterthought within the Penguins’ blue line. This year, he emerged as the player everyone expected him to be when he hit the ground running as a college free agent out of the University of Wisconsin. Initially projected as an offensive-minded defenseman, Schultz struggled with the Edmonton Oilers, and was cast off to Pittsburgh for their Cup run for a third-round draft pick. Entering the 2016 offseason as a free agent, Schultz re-signed with Pittsburgh for a measly $1.4 million contract.

But this year, Schultz has blossomed into a bonafide threat. Schultz set career highs in both goals and assists, with 12 and 39, respectively. That made him the seventh-leading scorer among NHL defensemen, five points behind Kevin Shattenkirk, the trade aquistion every team collectively drooled over. Of those 51 points, 20 came on the power play, making Schultz one of the top defensive threats in the NHL offensively.

Are the Penguins without Kris Letang? Yes. Does that hurt? Certainly. But Schultz has stepped up wonderfully for the Penguins to fill that void, and he now serves within Pittsburgh’s top pairing. That is a vastly different role with vastly different responsibilities from just a season prior.

How the Caps can stop him: Among NHL defensemen that played in 1,000 minutes this year, Schultz’s 41.7 average shot distance was 12th. Schultz’s ability to get chances near the net are large reason behind his 22 individual scoring chances this season, the 9th-most among defensemen this season. For a more offensive-minded defenseman, Schultz doesn’t have a particularly accurate shot (7.7 shooting percentage), at least not in the same sense as offensive-minded defensemen like Brent Burns (9.3 percent), Mike Green (11.3 percent) and Kevin Shattenkirk (8.6 percent). The Capitals can minimize Schultz’s production by not allowing him to creep towards the net. In fact, according to Corsica, only 15 of Schultz’s 113 on-ice goals were beyond the face-off circle.

The Capitals do have to be on their toes when Schultz has the puck. His 154 total shots this year. His 294 individual shot attempts this year greatly surpassed his 178 in total just last year. And when Schultz is on the ice with Sidney Crosby, the forward he has played the most 5v5 time with this season, he knows how to find him. Schultz recorded seven assists with Crosby on the ice, more than any other player he played with and nearly half of his 16 5v5 total.

Moral of the story: If Schultz has the puck, offensive things can happen.

Previously: Jake Guentzel | Ron Hainsey

From Last Year: Matt Murray | Patric Hornqvist | Tom Kuhnhackl | Nick Bonino | Conor Sheary | Ian Cole | Bryan Rust | Olli Maatta