Tag Archives: Justin Schultz

Offseason Player Grades: Justin Schultz

2016-17 Regular Season

78 GP, 12 G, 39 A, 51 PTS, +27, 34 PIM

2016-17 Playoffs

21 GP, 4 G, 9 A, 13 PTS, +3, 4 PIM

Player Grade (A+)

Justin Schultz was the hero we needed this season in the absence of Kris Letang. The team needed someone to step up and he was the one to do it. Every game Schultz played smart and hard to keep our zone clear. On top of being a good defender, Schultz also wasn’t afraid to take opportunities up top to create plays and score goals. He is ranked 10th in goals, 4th in assists, and 5th in points for the Penguins’ regular season. He showed up every game and never ceased to amaze everyone.

Season Review/Preview

Schultz continued to step his game up this season and improved greatly from the last. This season was an all time high for games played, goals, assists, points, +/-, and shots. One of Schultz’s biggest highlights was the game tying goal, with a few minutes left, in the third period of game three in the Washington series. Although the game was lost in OT the goal caused a huge decrease in Washington’s morale as the Penguins already had a 2 game lead in the series. Next season, I expect Schultz to be treated with the respect he deserves and see him continuing to average 20 minutes or more of ice time, even with Letang’s return.

Odd Men Out

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a log-jam on defense. As of July 26, just over two months until the 2017-2018 season begins, the Penguins currently have 9 defensemen that could possibly make the roster come October. This begs the question, which defensemen will be left off the team and which will be the odd men out?

The Keepers

To me, there are four defensemen that are absolute locks to be here and playing at the start of the season; Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Ian Cole. Leaving Olli Maatta off this list is somewhat controversial sure but we’ll get to him later. Besides Maatta, this leaves Frank Corrado, Matt Hunwick, Chad Ruhwedel, and Derrick Pouliot all fighting for the remaining three spots.

The Unlikely

It would seem as though that the struggling Corrado and journeyman Chad Ruhwedel are destined to start in the AHL next season. Despite General Manager Jim Rutherford‘s high praise for Ruhwedel at the beginning of free agency, it seems as though the signing of Matt Hunwick has made him more of a depth defensemen than a top 6 guy. Hunwick is known to struggle, though, and has been driving Toronto fans nuts for years; so if he does start to flounder, or the inevitable injury to a defensemen happens, expect Ruhwedel to be the first guy up. Corrado on the other hand…well, who really knows. It seems as if he’s been forgotten over the past few months as free agency continues. Unless he stuns the coaching staff and GM in the preseason, Corrado will probably be heading to Wilkes-Barre for a majority of the season.

Three Men, Two Spots

This leaves us with Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot and Matt Hunwick, all fighting for the two spots that remain. As I’ve said about Hunwick, I do expect to see him on opening night, that may be in the press box or on the ice, but I just think that Rutherford would not give a three-year deal with an AAV of $2.25 million to someone just to be banished to the minors. Now, if Olli Maatta is still a Penguin by October, then there is absolutely no doubt that he will be starting. Maatta’s game went from amazing to disastrous after a slew of injuries stunted his development. Maatta’s mistakes stand out due to his lack of speed. However, when he’s not getting burned, he is still an outstanding defensemen. Maatta really has transformed his game to become a more complete NHL defensemen since his rookie season, but his speed is still something that plagues him. I personally do not want the Penguins to trade Olli Maatta. He is a great defensemen with a bright future ahead of him. That being said, when looking at the void at third line center and the excess that the Pens have on D…if Rutherford wanted to make a splash and trade for a big name, (which he does not have to), Maatta would almost have to be going the other way.  Finally there is the never-ending conundrum that is Derrick Pouliot. The Pen’s best defensive prospect has struggled ever since he stunned Pittsburgh by scoring his first goal on his first shot. Reported attitude problems and losing the ability to quickly move the puck seemingly overnight have made Pouliot spend a majority of his career in the AHL, despite his overwhelming potential. However, in an interview with The Trib, Rutherford said, “Pouliot finished the season real strong.  We feel he’s going to come in and play,” However, if the Pens were to keep Maatta, then the top 6 would include Letang, Schultz, Dumoulin, Maatta, Cole, and Hunwick. I don’t see where Pouliot fits in. I think the kid deserves a shot and also think that he is probably better than Matt Hunwick is, but again Hunwick’s contract makes it hard for me to think that he’ll be sitting many games. To be quite frank, I do not know what the Pens will do with Pouliot if this same roster is intact. Maybe he’s traded, maybe he spends time at practice and in the press box, maybe he takes Hunwick’s spot, or maybe he’s forced to spend yet another season in Wilkes-Barre.

Only time can tell what will happen to the Penguins Defense come October. No matter what does happen, a healthy Kris Letang makes the Pens defense one to reckon with next year.

What Penguins Would Have Fun Days With Cup?

It’s been 25 days since the Penguins won the Stanley Cup (again) followed by the victory parade and I am riding just as high as I hope many Pens fans still are. I was in attendance at the 2016 parade and had the time of my life for numerous reasons. While I wasn’t able to make it to this years 2017 parade, having some beers later and watching it on tv in celebration  made me feel like I was there once again at the party.

Winning 2 cups in a row, especially in the Salary Cap era, is very difficult to do. So I’m gonna enjoy the hell out of this 1 (again) much like many of the players did during the parade as you probably have seen by now. It got me to thinking, I wonder what some of the players (particularly the younger guys) are doing with their day with the cup?

Certainly everyone is gonna have fun with it, but who would I wanna be hanging with or as their goal song dictates “party hard” with come there day with the Cup?

I’m going to get this outta the way right now, Phil Kessel is always an automatic choice. There’s no need to explain, I love Phil Kessel, you love Phil Kessel, we all love him, we know the folklore about him. This is definitely obvious. It’s like talking about the greatest Yankees of all team, don’t even need to mention Babe Ruth because we all know he’s one of the greatest players of all time, same ruling goes for Kessel.

Jake Guentzel

Unlike many of his teammates, Guentzel was only on the latter of the back to back championships. For this being his 1st time meeting new best friend Stanley, Guentzel looked thrilled the entire time at the parade. He was seen fist pumping and cheering all the way down the route. My favorite part was him talking about what he’s doing with the cup:

“IM GOING BACK TO MINNESOTAAAAAA”. Jake Guentzel was literally a kid in a candy shop, he’s got a shiny new silver toy to play with this summer. Seeing Guentzel with that joy on his face during the whole parade makes me think that won’t stop at all, for me that’s a front row seat worth the price of admission.

Brian Dumoulin

Last year in 2016 we were blessed with this gem:

Than now in 2017 it might have been even better:

Biting open the can with your teeth is such a savage move I can’t help but be a fan of it. I for sure want to be around for what Dumo will do next.

Sidney Crosby:

As if 3 Stanley Cups and 2 Conn Smythe’s and a team parade wasn’t enough already for Sid, he now gets to be treated like a super hero. His hometown of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia Canada loves their home grown kid so much that Crosby gets his own parde in town. Imagine that, a parade for just you, not any teammates, just yourself. I would love to be apart of that and be on 1 of the floats, definitely would be a cool thing to do.

I also think Sid would let loose a little in a place where you can see him behind the scenes. He’s always very calculated and reserved when it comes to doing interviews, it would be fun seeing the other fun side of Crosby.

Olli Maatta

Need I say more?

Carl Hagelin

“Swagelin” as some call him scored the last goal of the Cup Final, a thrilling feeling putting the last nail in your opponents coffin. He also had a rough year because of injury and under production of goal scoring that we normally see from the Swede. In other words, Hagelin could use the 2nd championship to blow off some steam.

He got right to it by joining Crosby at the NHL Awards over in Vegas. Surely Hagelin ripped up the town while he was there as he wasn’t up for any awards, just there hanging with Stanley and Sid in support of his teammate. I’ll hit the black jack tables with Hagelin anytime.

Ron Hainsey

Trade deadline acquisition Ron Hainsey always struck me as kind of similar to that old dad from the movie Project X, or maybe the fun neighbor you might be aware of. He’s the loving, responsible, caring father that he should be to his wife and kids. Then, one night, the young guys a few houses down decide to throw a real awesome party, Hainsey stops by to ask to keep the noise down, next thing you know he’s invited in and getting wild with everyone else, maybe doing some shots or a quick drinking game, having a great time and being one of the last to leave.

That’s how I imagine Hainsey felt as he wasted away his time in Carolina struggling and never making the playoffs (the nice dad who’s kinda boring). Next he’s on the Penguins in the playoffs, having fun, being productive, scoring goals in the Stanley Cup (the crazy dad) slicing through defenders and finally winning that Stanley Cup! Hainsey than dressed up as a catcher and caught the 1st pitch thrown by Sidney Crosby at the Pirates game the next day. It’s been some ride for Hainsey, he can finally relax.

Evgeni Malkin

This really just comes down to the fact that Malkin has always been my favorite player. He’s also the all time playoff points leader in Russia. The reception he probably gets when he brings the Cup back to his town of Magnitogorsk is probably 1 similar to when Steph Curry goes back to Charlotte.

Justin Schultz

I just want to recreate a bunch of the memes that have now went viral of Schutlz walking and chugging. There’s no question he, Maatta, Conor Sheary and Guentzel were the ones really getting after it at the parade, if you know what I mean.

Really you could make a case for any Penguins player on this roster. Back to back, sounds great to say. Raise a glass, a cold one, or the finest bottle of choice for your 2017 Stanley Cup Champs!



Penguins Need Schultz to Fulfill an Important Role

Last season, Justin Schultz wasn’t too high on himself. 

The former college hockey standout with the Wisconsin Badgers was having the worst season of his career with a very upset Oilers franchise. Garnering high expectations ever since his inception with the Oilers, Justin was simply not living up to be the potential Norris-winning defenseman that the team envisioned him to become. Fed up with the slumping defenseman, who had only 10 points in 45 games, the Oilers shipped the failed Schultz to Pittsburgh for a mere third-round pick. 

Without the pressure of playing top minutes and being the top defenseman, Schultz slid into a bottom-pairing defensive role for the Penguins. With Trevor Daley getting hurt in the Eastern Conference Finals, Schultz replaced the veteran defenseman enroute to the team winning their fourth Stanley Cup.

A Comeback Season to Remember

After testing the free agency water, Schultz finally decided to resign with the Penguins for one year at $1.4 million. The contract, at the time, seemed fair for both sides; however, the Penguins are the ones benefitting from that contract now.

Schultz has been absolutely terrific for the Penguins. Pairing up with Ian Cole, the former Badger finally had a breakthrough season. Schultz recorded 12 goals and 51 points in 78 games this regular season with the Penguins, which was good for 7th among NHL defenseman this season. Schultz also found his overall game to be enhanced, and with credit to Penguins defensive development coach and former player Sergei Gonchar, the 26 year old defenseman has become much better at playing away from the puck.

Meriting mention of an all-star appearance, Schultz made a complete turnaround from last season. With his improved play, Schultz has seen an increased role with the Penguins. With Kris Letang set to miss the entire playoffs, however, Schultz is going to have to fulfill a much-needed role for the Penguins.

The Hero They Need

Kris Letang will never be replaced. Earning Norris Trophy (best defenseman) and Conn Smythe (playoff MVP) consideration at the fruition of last season, Letang was crucial to the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup. Even though Letang is gone, however, Schultz can help with one role that Letang played.

What the Penguins have missed the most from Letang is his ability to lead the rush, practically by himself. With generational talents like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin playing together, this team needs players that can get the puck up the ice to them. Out of all of the defenseman the Penguins

What the Penguins need from Schultz is what he’s done so far in Letang’s absence: lead the rush. Cole has complemented Schultz very well this season and has been his pseudo-defensive backbone; giving Schultz more freedom to join the rush. With Cole behind him as a defensive backup, Schultz has found himself deeper in the offensive zone and has since an elevation in scoring because of it.

Schultz has shown this year that not only is he gifted offensively, but he is decent at playing away from the puck as well. Schultz isn’t going to be the team’s shutdown defenseman. There are other guys that can do that, such as Cole, Brian Dumoulin, and Ron Hainsey.

Finding Faith in the Former Badger

Kris Letang played 41 games; missing exactly half of the Penguins regular season. In his absence, Just Schultz has propelled himself into a top role. Quarterbacking the team’s top power play, Schultz has already shown his value to the Penguins. 

If Schultz can lead the rush and help develop scoring chances, the single thing that Kris Letang did best, then the Penguins will score more goals. Period. The Penguins don’t need Schultz to play like the Norris Trophy defenseman the Oilers thought they had. The team simply needs the former Badger to lead the rush and provide scoring chances.

Schultz was once considered to be a failure. After only a few months of being a Penguin, he turned into a Stanley Cup champion. If he wants to remain a champion for another year, then he will need to be the player that his team needs. He won’t be Kris Letang, but he can still provide a much-needed role for this team.

This Penguins Team is Much, Much Different

The second-most difficult task in professional sports is winning a championship.

There’s many difficult layers and aspects to winning the highly desired prize, and many professional sports franchises are never able to call themselves the cream of the crop, or simply, the best of the world. While many will believe that winning a championship is the most daunting and difficult task for a club to achieve, many underestimate that there is something even more difficult for a team to accomplish: winning multiple championships.

The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup last year, we all know this. I don’t need to say anymore about that. What I can say, however, is how this team is different. Yes, I understand that the turnover isn’t much different than last years team. As a matter of fact, Ben Lovejoy, Beau Bennett, and Eric Fehr are the only three that have departed since then. Regardless of personnel, this team is still different.

The “HBK” line is almost non-existent. During last years playoff run, the trio of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel was the most dominant line of the playoffs. This year, the line struggled to play like their former selves. Bonino has seen his play elevate in the past month, but Kessel isn’t performing like he should. Kessel, who dominated last year’s playoffs with 10 goals and 22 points in 24 games. This year, Kessel has managed to score 22 goals and 67 points in 79 games which is fair, but he has struggled as of late to put the puck in the back of the net.

Hagelin has been out of commission due to an injury and may not even see play in the first round against Columbus. Taking the role as the speedy left winger, Bryan Rust has slotted next to Bonino and Kessel and this new line has been playing decent hockey. Hagelin, when he returns, will most likely play with Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist.

Kris Letang will miss the entire playoffs. Ouch. The undisputed best defenseman on the Penguins roster, and arguably the team’s most important player, will not be able to assist the injury-riddled Penguins win another Stanley Cup. Many have argued that the Penguins would not have won the Stanley Cup last year without Letang. Losing Letang was tough, there’s no doubt about it. Without Letang, it is going to be very difficult to win the Stanley Cup.

On the other side, this team is very different from last year (in a positive way). Jake Guentzel surprised everyone and showed how deep the Penguins prospect pool really is. Guentzel has scored 15 goals this season and has helped form one of the best lines in hockey. Did I mention that Guentzel, who was playing College hockey last year, plays next to Sidney Crosby? Who would’ve thought a college player could play on a wing with Sidney Crosby?

Even worse, who would’ve thought that both of Crosby’s wingers were college players. Conor Sheary is slowly turning into an elite player. He has developed and progressed remarkably last year, and this is a player who scored two goals in the Stanley Cup Finals. With 23 goals this year, Sheary has defied the odds and has turned out to be a true gem for the Penguins.

“Sid and the Kids” is this years “HBK.” The team has needed a line to be hot and they got one. If the Penguins hope to win the cup again, “Sid and the Kids” is going to have to guide them there.

As I mentioned before, Letang isn’t going to play in the playoffs. While the loss is devastating, there is somebody that could possibly take his place. Justin Schultz has been tremendous for the Penguins this season. Absolutely tremendous. Who would’ve thought this guy was only traded for a third round pick? I’m not going to talk too much about Schultz as there’s a future story coming up.

The Penguins also added veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit at the trade deadline, and with Letang now out of commission, these trades are even more valuable now. Chad Ruhwedel has played fairly well for the Penguins, and if another injury occurs, Ruhwedel may very well make the playoff roster.

The Penguins final regular season game and first playoff games may have very different rosters. The games are only a few days apart, but the impact of the two are substantially different. If the Penguins have home ice in the first round by Game 82, I would expect several players to be sitting the game out. Olli Maatta, Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Hagelin, and Tom Sestito are all currently out with injury. I’m expecting Maatta and Malkin to be ready to go by Game 1, but Kunitz and Hagelin may be out a little bit longer (I doubt Sestito sees playoff time).

Regardless of the team’s low turnover rate, this team is much different than last years. Injuries have plagued the team, some younger players have stepped up, and line combinations have been changed. This team is a great team, one of the best in Penguins history. What the deciding factor on how great this team will be, however, is if they’re able to win the Stanley Cup again. Winning a sports championship is hard. Winning a championship again is harder. If this team can win again, they may just be the best in team history.

Penguins Have Affinity For NCAA Players

Throughout the 2016-17 season we have seen a lot of new names in and out of the lineup for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Most of these names are young talent coming from the Penguins farm system. Names such as Chad Rudwedel, Scott Wilson, and Carter Rowney are in and out of the lineup due to injuries. Players like Phil Kessel, Conor Sheary, and Chris Kuntiz are guys we think of as essential pieces to the Penguins in their respected ways. But what is one thing these players and many others have in common? That is, they have all played hockey in the NCAA before turning pro with the Pens, or another NHL franchise.

Would you believe that the Penguins have 17 guys that have played in the NCAA play this season in the NHL? Well, you had better believe it because it is true.

2016-17 Players Who Have Played in the NCAA for the Penguins

  1. Matt Cullen- St. Cloud State University
  2. Carl Hagelin- University of Michigan
  3. Chris Kunitz- Ferris State University
  4. Nick Bonino- Boston University
  5. Brian Dumoulin- Boston College
  6. Jake Guentzel- University of Nebraska Omaha
  7. Ian Cole- Notre Dame
  8. Ron Hainsey- Umass Lowell
  9. Phil Kessel- University of Minnesota
  10. Bryan Rust- Notre Dame
  11. Justin Schultz- University of Wisconsin
  12. Conor Sheary- Umass-Amherst
  13. Josh Archibald- University of Nebraska Omaha
  14. Carter Rowney- University of North Dakota
  15. Chad Ruhwedel- Umass Lowell
  16. Scott Wilson- Umass Lowell
  17. David Warsofsky- Boston University

*Out of the 17 listed players above, 12 are everyday players for the Penguins this season.

The Penguins have proved yet again that their depth in the farm system helped boost them to be a top 3 team in the NHL this season. Although all 17 former NCAA players have proved their worth this season, there are three names that stand out to me.

Justin Schultz- 12 Goals, 38 Assists. Schultz has proven this season that he is capable of putting up the offensive numbers he was expected to after being a 2nd round pick in 2008 all while improving his defensive game.

Conor Sheary- 23 Goals, 30 Assists. Playing aside Sidney Crosby for most of the season is beneficial, but believe me Sheary is the real deal. In just his 2nd NHL season he has proven capable of being Crosby’s right winger for a long time.

Jake Guentzel- 15 Goals, 16 Assists. Recently joining Crosby and Sheary to form the Sid and the Kids line, Gunetzel has proven to Penguins management that he deserves to stay in the lineup going into the playoffs.

To give credit where credit is due, these players have all proved that the NCAA is producing some serious talent now more than ever. There are also a few people in Penguins management that need to be recognized for their outstanding work.

Mark Rechi– Player Development Coach

Randy Sexton– Director of Amateur Scouting

Derek Clancey– Director of Pro Scouting

Without these gentlemen being part of the Penguins organization we may never see players like Sheary or Gunztzel make such a huge impact as they have this season.

 As far as the AHL team, Wilkes Barre Penguins, they currently have 14 rostered players who have played NCAA previously. The most notable singing being Hobby Baker finalist Zach Aston-Reese. Two notable players in the ECHL playing for the Wheeling Nailers are Cody Wydo, and Daniel Leavens who both attended Robert Morris University here in Pittsburgh.

The NCAA is producing talent at a much more rapid level than they have in recent years. In 2015 alone 30% of the NHL were former NCAA players. Not only are they gifted hockey players but 91% of NCAA players are graduating with their degree. The NCAA is growing each year in talent, and I personally cannot wait to see what the future holds for these student athletes.

Monday Morning Thoughts: Crosby The NHL’s Premier All-Star

Sidney Crosby didn’t take home Sunday night’s All-Star Game MVP award. That went to Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds. Crosby did record his first two points ever in all star game competition. It’s only the second time he’s competed in an all star game competition due to various reasons such as injuries to Olympic participation.

– As the Penguins return to PPG Paints Arena to play the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, the question of who will be the netminder remains to be answered. Matt Murray has all but seized the starting job as proven by his heightened work load over the past three weeks. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t started a game since January 14 in Detroit where he allowed 6 goals on 34 shots.

– Personally, if I’m the Penguins, unless I’m blown away by an offer for Fleury, I’m keeping him through the end of the season and dealing with the problem then. Fleury is an experienced goalie heading into the postseason and someone like Tristan Jarry, who’s never played in an NHL game, wouldn’t be the ideal starter if something would happen to Murray. Of course, if they package him in a deal for a guy like Kevin Shattenkirk, then you do it with ease. It’s a very unlikely possibility. But a possibility nonetheless.

– A guy who’s not getting enough recognition is Chad Ruhwedel. As I wrote earlier this week, Ruhwedel is quietly enjoying success at the NHL level. Hopefully, they can get Kris Letang back soon which would relegate Ruhwedel back to the seventh defenseman. I don’t say this in a negative way because who wants to be without their top defenseman. But carrying Ruhwedel on the roster the rest of the season as an insurance to the Penguins’ oft-injured defense corps is going to pay off.

– Both Jarry and defenseman David Warsofsky participated in the AHL’s skills competition Sunday night. Warsofsky took part in the hardest shot contest recording the second highest shot at 98.4 MPH. Jarry went a perfect 3-for-3 on the “Pass and Score” Competition. He stopped 5 of 10 in the “Rapid Fire” Competition.

– The Penguins gear up for 13 games in the month of February. Only five of those games ( 2 vs. CBJ, 1 vs. DET, CAR, PHI) will be against Eastern Conference opponents. February 9 is a 9 PM start against Colorado. Other than that, not many surprises on this schedule coming up.

Phil Kessel was among the lost of snubs from the ASG in Los Angeles over the weekend but he doesn’t mind. His 46 points are good enough for T-11th in the points race with Leon Draisaitl and Evgeni Malkin‘s injury replacement Cam Atkinson. Many believed Kessel should’ve made the game because of the Blue Jackets already sending goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and defenseman Seth Jones to the game while Malkin, a Penguin, should’ve been replaced by a teammate.

Justin Schultz has to be a priority this offseason, right? At the level he’s playing at, the last thing the Penguins can do is allow him to walk in free agency. He is a restricted free agent though. If he makes it to that point without a new deal, the Penguins can match any offer and would receive compensation if the Penguins let him go for a certain price tag. Schultz’s 35 points are an incredible number for a guy who, one short year ago, was rotting away on the Edmonton Oilers’ blue line.