Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Washington Capitals 2021-2022 Previews -- Defensemen: Justin Schultz

Justin Schultz

“I think people who have faults are a lot more interesting than people who are perfect.”
-- Spike Lee


If one looks at the scouting report on Washington Capitals defenseman Justin Schultz at TSN.ca, you might think Schultz is among the most interesting people on the planet: 

  • 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.

Last season, for the most part, Caps fans saw more of the “assets” Schultz than the “flaws.”  His overall top line numbers were good (3-24-27, plus-12), his on-ice even strength goal percentage (59.2 percent) was best on the team.  He was on ice for 31 even strength goals against, second fewest among the six Capitals defensemen to dress for more than 20 games.   

Odd Schultz Fact… Schultz failed to record a shot on goal only 12 times in 46 games, but the Caps were 8-2-2 in those games.

Odd Schultz Fact II… Schultz’ 1.3 primary assists and 1.9 points per 60 minutes last season were career bests.

Fearless’ Take… If you start with the premise that Schultz is primarily an offensive defenseman, then last year was a good one for him.  Whether he is an effective defender or not, there wasn’t a lot of bad happening on his watch on the ice.  And as for that offensive emphasis, it mattered.  The Caps were 16-1-2 in games in which Schulz recorded at least one point.

Cheerless’ Take… Good things happened when Schultz was on ice, for the most part, but his 49.0 percent shot attempts on-ice at 5-on-5 was worst on the team among defensemen appearing in at least ten games.  That is not an outlier in his career.  Seven times in nine seasons he was under 50 percent.  Some of those years were spent with struggling Edmonton Oiler teams, but the same pattern was evident in his years with a good Pittsburgh squad.  There is also the matter of Schultz’ durability.  He missed ten games last season with lower body and facial injuries.  Only three times in seven full NHL seasons did he dress for at least 70 games.  He has appeared in 80.6 percent of his teams’ scheduled games over his career.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021…

  • 600 career NHL games (currently 528)
  • 100 games as a Capital (46)
  • 200 career assists (188)
  • 250 career points (241)
  • 100 career power play points (97)

The Big Question… Can Justin Schultz be the “1A” offensive defenseman on this club?

Schultz finished second among Caps defensemen in points last season (27) despite missing ten games.  Six times in nine NHL seasons he finished with more than 25 points.  He has a 51-point season on his resume (2016-2017 with Pittsburgh).  Schultz would seem to have it in him to relieve John Carlson of some of the offensive burden or, preferably, to supplement Carlson’s production.  This is particularly promising in that Schultz’ points output has been primarily a function of his assist totals (eight times in his career he finished with more than ten assists).  The Caps certainly have their share of finishers for Schultz’ playmaking.  He averaged more than half an assist per game last season, his 0.52 assists per game being a career high.  It would not be surprising if he pushed that a bit higher this season.

In the end…

That scouting report from TSN.ca sort of lingers when considering Schultz’ 2021-2022 possibilities, as does the matter of his durability.  The flaws were not as evident last year as they might have been in previous seasons, but on a team that could be unsettled on defense, at least to start the season – Michal Kempny’s attempt to comeback from serious leg injuries, the possibility of one or two rookies getting ice time (Martin Fehervary, Alex Alexeyev), some uncertainty in how the pairings will shake out – a solid three-zone effort from Schultz will be important for the Caps to stake a claim to a postseason berth.

Projection: 65 games, 6-31-37, plus-8


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