Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz is still a few weeks shy of celebrating his 22nd birthday, but when Schultz fed Alex Ovechkin for the game-winning goal in Thursday night’s 5-4 overtime thriller against Montreal, it ended the 82nd game of the young defenseman’s NHL career, giving us a one-season equivalent snapshot of his career to date.

In those 82 games, Schultz has totaled a respectable five goals, 10 assists, 15 points and a plus-7 while averaging about 18:20 a night. The Calgary native has 36 PIM and 45 shots on goal.

Because of his size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds), Schultz sometimes draws comparisons to similarly sized defensemen such as Toronto’s Hal Gill (6-foot-7, 250 pounds) and Boston’s Zdeno Chara (6-foot-9, 251 pounds). We’ll note here that both of those veterans are much more physical and both were more physical than Schultz when they came into the league. It is by no means a perfect comparison, but it’s Saturday and we’ve got a few hours to kill before game time.

In Gill’s first two seasons, he totaled five goals, 11 assists and 16 points to go along with a minus-6 rating and 110 PIM. He fired 158 shots to score those five goals and needed 148 games to accumulate those stats. Gill was 22 years old when he began his rookie NHL season.

Chara was 20 years old when he debuted in the NHL during the 1997-98 season. In his first 84 games in the league, Chara totaled two goals, seven assists, nine points and a minus-7. He had 133 PIM and 66 shots on goal.

It’s worth noting that Chara’s next two seasons were nothing to write home to Trencin about, either. Through his first 231 NHL games, Chara had managed six goals, 23 assists, 29 points and a rather ugly –61. He had amassed 347 PIM and 196 shots on goal.

Schultz takes some heat from fans at times (most rearguards do), and numbers don’t tell the whole story with defensemen. That said, given the quality of the team he has played for since he made his NHL debut in Jan. 2007, Schultz’s first 82 games in the league have been pretty solid. It’s also worth noting that of all the Caps blueliners who have spent time in the minor leagues, Schultz has had the least seasoning (in terms of games at that level) of all of them.

Still, if he is able to pack some more muscle onto his frame, get stronger and round out his game a bit more, the 2004 first-rounder could realize a good bit more of his upside potential, as both Gill and Chara did after their first few seasons in the league.

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12 Comments on “3-D”

  1. strungout Says:

    Stronger? Yeah he can get stronger.

    But how about getting…meaner?

    Not sure that can be added like some muscle.

  2. dmg Says:

    I think a lot of the criticism leveled at Schultz has been unfair and I think a lot of it is the result of fans having the knee-jerk “he’s big, he should be a real physical defender.”

    While I think Schultz could use his body more effectively he, at 215-220 pounds, is not that big for a defenseman. In addition I think that Schultz’s defensive game is based on playing smart and not making mistakes; I think that he is hesitant to take himself out of a play to make a hit.

    But ultimetly Schultz is very young, and plays perhaps even younger because of his size. I have no doubt he will wind up being a very solid stay-at-home defender.

  3. Comebackkono Says:

    Im gonna join this miny band wagon and say that while i know the kid is young and will get bigger. He could really use a little more edge. There is no way he should get man handled the way he does along the boards by people alot smaller than he is.

  4. usiel Says:

    As far as ‘meaner’ or having more of an ‘edge’ is concerned I think it would be safe to say the Jurcina/Morissonn don’t necessarily have that either BUT they use their size/weight/strength/position to make a physical play against an opposing forward when it is appropriate.

    The stat comparison with Gill/Chara is interesting. I think it is a bit natural for fans to get frustrated with developing dmen as it takes several season. Until Schultz stagnates in development for a couple of seasons there is no reason to discount his upside if he continues to gain weight/muscle and hopefully starts applying those physical aspects along with his huge reach/wingspan in the D zone.

  5. Mike L Says:

    Schultz (and more-so Jurcina) need to play their size. Schultz plays with the same physical presense as someone 6-0 or 6-1, but needs to be more aggressive when using his size. He has longer arms that he needs to take advantage of, with more poke-checking. He also needs to be more physical in the corners.

    That said, Schultz is a very solid, dependable defenseman and I’m glad he’s on the Caps. I don’t think he’ll ever have that edge that a defenseman like Brendan Witt has, where a forward going into the corner with him might hesitate.

    Jurcina needs to be more aggressive as well. If he were as agressive as Schultz is, he’d be a monster, but he is the most passive 6-4 defenseman I’ve ever seen…he needs to get a mean streak… and quickly, or he’s going to find out what playing in Hershey is like (I can’t see the Caps keeping him in the NHL to sit in the press box if all the D are healthy…)

  6. dmg Says:

    Mike L,

    Jurcina is betting better thought – I believe Joe B mentioned that over the last two weeks Jurcina leads the NHL in hits.

  7. pgreene Says:

    my problem with schultz (if indeed i have a problem) is not the lack of meanness. it’s his being pushed around/weak on his skates. there, i do expect more from someone his size. i don’t care a lick if he never becomes a fighting rough and tumble defenseman. but i do expect him to be able to stay on his feet when laid into by the likes of chuck kobasew. get him on ovechkin’s leg workout and all will be well by next year.

  8. Funkyglovefacewash Says:

    I think we’ll see Shultz get more physical as he bulks up over the next few seasons and gets more comfortable with his game at this level. I also agree that he probably won’t get meaner but I’m confident he will become an effective Stay-at-homer and he’s already ahead of the curve. Right now we only have one nasty D-man (Erskine), but Joe Finley is coming and he is a 6′ 7″ 245 lbs(at last check) mean defenseman.
    He can control games with his play , moves very well for a guy his size and is solid
    positionally but most importantly he will lay that huge frame on you any chance he gets. I’ve seen him in action and believe me he’s one of those guys that forwards are scared of. He has one more year of college but don’t be suprised if he turns pro next season.

  9. dumpnchase Says:

    I’m with you. Muscle will be easier than meanness. But even muscle might be enough to make him a legit top 4 guy for a few seasons.

    His reach and his positioning and his smartness are assets and he uses them well. From here, it’s about fleshing out some of his weak areas and turning them into assets. If he can do it, great.

    Mike L,
    I agree that Schultz could play more to his size. Jurcina does so, but needs to do it more consistently.

    You’re right, Juice is among the league leaders in hits over the last few weeks.

    Good observation, and one that could be remedied with a good summer’s work on upper and lower body strength.

    I’m with you. I can’t wait to see me some Joe Finley in a Caps sweater.

  10. usiel Says:

    Speaking of Finley….

    Dragging Wheeler out of the hand shake line for an attempted go is pretty entertaining.

  11. Mike L Says:

    Jurcina does hit and is playing better…but his hits aren’t as physical. There were a few years when Brendan Witt was among the league leader in hits, and his hits packed a lot more of a wallop than Jurcina’s have,

    I suspect we’ll have to wait for next year when Alzner is ready… he’s going to make people afraid to go into the corner with him…

    Still, it’d be nice to see Schultz and Jurcina get more physical in their hits, even take a penalty (boarding, charging, etc.) when games are decided to let people know they can be aggressive. Everyone here I supsect remembers Ulf Samuelsson and Darius Kasparitis. Neither of these guys were amazing talents, they got most of what they go through work, but what they also did was play dirty occasionally, which made opposing forwards think about going into the corners against them. That little split-second hesitation is the difference between running the offense successfully or having the attack break down and the opponent clearing the zone.

    The Caps have had this type of play traditionally since the 1980s, with Rod Langway, Scott Stevens, Al Iafrate (yeah the shot was awesome, but he could hit hard), Joe Reekie, Ken Sabourin (really!), Brendan Witt, Jamie Heward… and now that big time, explosive hitter isn’t in the line-up…

  12. usiel Says:

    Alzner is not really physical in the corners from the games I have seen…he just efficiently rubs out the opposing forward. Unlike Schultz he will do this with his size/weight but it just isn’t uber ‘physical’.

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