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.