The cousins – Fearless and Cheerless – are back to help with today’s look ahead at…
Last Year: 5-13-18, +12, 61 hits
Career Average (per-82 games): 4-12-16, +13, 66 hits
Fearless’ Take: Let’s start with a fun fact from last year. As you’ll note above, Schultz was credited with 61 hits in 72 games. Did that put him among the leaders in the league? Nope, but it’s more than Sean O’Donnell (54 in 82 games), Willie Mitchell (49 in 72 games), Tom Gilbert (27 in 82 games), and Scott Hannan (58 in 82 games). Even Chris Pronger – In height and weight almost a double of Schultz, with a far bigger reputation for physical play – had 74 hits in 72 games. This is not to make a point that Schultz is far more physical than some Caps fans give him credit for being, but neither is he the nice guy on skates those fans seem to think he is, either. He held his own on last year’s club in a lot of areas: hits (5th), blocked shots (3rd), goals, (T-2nd), assists (3rd), points (3rd), ice time (4th among players with more than 40 games played). Not bad for a guy with only 110 games of NHL experience and one full season on a club that made the playoffs. And his role grew as the stakes got higher. He averaged just over 20 minutes a night (compared to his season average of 18 minutes a night) in 11 games to close the season before he was injured in the regular season finale. He is only 22 years old…he’ll get better.
Cheerless Take: It’s not that Schultz is bad; he’s not, but geez, cuz…the Caps already have enough guys who don’t do a great job of clearing the crease. They need someone to take the backsides from in front of their goalie’s face. Mike Green isn’t that guy (although he had 33 more hits than did Schultz), and Tom Poti probably isn’t, either. Until Joe Finley comes to town, Schultz is the best candidate. And before we get all smitten with his offense, he had four of his five goals over a six game stretch last year. He had one goal over his last 45 games.
The Peerless’ Take: OK, here’s another fun fact. After Christmas last year, Schultz only had seven “minus” games for the remainder of the year (in 43 total). He doesn’t get a lot of minutes against the opposition’s top pair, but his total minutes suggest he’s seeing time against players who have some offensive capability, and he logged almost as much penalty killing time per game (3:10) as did Shaone Morrisonn (3:25). Using Alan Ryder’s HockeyAnalytics ratings, he was among the top dozen penalty killing defensemen in the league last year. What he brings at this point in his career is a sense of being able to play within his capabilities. He doesn’t go for the big hit or the big rush. He plays angles well, he doesn’t take silly penalties, and he moves the puck capably. Here’s a prognostication for this year…as much as Mike Green emerged on the offensive side of the ledger last year among defensemen, Schultz is going to be that player on the defensive end this year for the Caps. He was fourth on the club in even strength time on ice last year, third in short-handed time. While he remains something of a work in progress, he’ll get bigger shares of ice time this year, and it will be a reflection of his maturity in his own end. We suspect, though, that Caps fans (some of them, anyway) will continue to bemoan his not being a big hitter. It won’t keep him from getting a considerable raise next summer when he is a restricted free agent.
Projected: 3-14-17, +15