Jason Brough

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06:  Justin Schultz #4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on before a face off against the New Jersey Devils on March 6, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Penguins are playing Schultz to his strengths

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On Jan. 20, 2013, Justin Schultz made his NHL debut and played 20:52 for the Edmonton Oilers. By his third game, his ice time was up to 26:51, the most on the team.

In hindsight, it was too much, too soon, and with way too little structure and support. In February, the offensive defenseman — the same one that former Oilers GM Craig MacTavish once said had “Norris Trophy potential” — was traded to Pittsburgh for a measly third-round draft pick.

Still just 25, Schultz is currently in a bottom-pairing role for the Penguins. He replaced Olli Maatta in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final. In Game 3, he registered an assist on Sidney Crosby‘s power-play goal, but barely skated 10 minutes at even strength.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said the goal with Schultz has been to put him in positions where he can succeed.

“We like to see our players for what they can do and not what they can’t do,” said Sullivan. “It’s our responsibility to try to put them in situations where they can play to their strengths. And all of our guys have different strengths, and that’s what makes good teams good, I think.

“Justin’s a guy that, when we acquired him, we thought he could help us play the identity or the type of game that we want to play. He’s a very good puck mover. He has good offensive instincts. He has good mobility. He can really shoot the puck. And so we’ve tried to put him in positions where he can play to those strengths, and he’s done a real good job for us. He doesn’t try to do too much. He plays within himself.”

Looking back on the summer of 2012, it may have been better for Schultz to pick a more established team, one that wasn’t so bereft of quality defensemen, one that didn’t really need him. The supposedly up-and-coming Oilers wooed Schultz, then a highly sought-after college free agent, with calls from Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey. When he signed, he insisted he was never guaranteed ice time, but the top-four opportunity in Edmonton was obvious. 

Of course, there’s no sense in dwelling on the past. Schultz has been given a fresh start in Pittsburgh, and it appears he’s making the best of it.

“We’ve tried to offer him feedback from what we see or what our expectations are in trying to define his role with our group, and I think he’s embraced that with our team,” said Sullivan. “So when we do put him in the lineup, we know what we’re getting. We know how we think he can help us win.”

Stamkos skates, but ‘still a real possibility’ he won’t play in playoffs

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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If anyone’s counting on Steven Stamkos to rescue the Tampa Bay Lightning, they shouldn’t.

“There’s still a real possibility that I won’t play at all in the playoffs,” Stamkos told reporters today.

“Nothing’s changed. No update. Still in a holding pattern,” he said.

Stamkos has not played since March 31 due to a blood clot that was found in his arm.

The Lightning survived the first two rounds of the playoffs without their captain, but the Pittsburgh Penguins have them down 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Final. Game 4 goes tomorrow in Tampa.

The Penguins have dominated the series, outshooting the Bolts by a combined 124-69.

“The volume of shots we’re giving up and some of the chances we’re giving up are just way too many,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said last night after Game 3, a 4-2 loss.

“We’ve gone through multiple playoff games, and we don’t give this up in, gosh, two or three games combined.”

Stamkos says he could still return at some point in the series. After skating today, he even gave himself a slim chance of playing tomorrow.

But with those kind of odds, if the Lightning are going to get back in this series, they’ll most likely have to do it without him.

“The thing with this situation, there’s no data out there to support whether coming back earlier than the initial prognosis is safe or not, if there’s elevated risks or not,” Stamkos said.

“You have to just do your best to gather as many opinions, gather as much information as possible so you’re well-educated on the risks if you do come back, realizing that it’s not worth the risk. So we haven’t reached that stage yet.”

Paille signs with Swedish club Brynäs

Boston Bruins left wing Daniel Paille celebrates his goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during the second period in Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals in Boston, Monday, June 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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Dan Paille is off to Sweden. The 32-year-old forward has signed with Brynäs IF of the SHL, according to the club’s website.

Paille spent most of 2015-16 in the AHL, but did play 12 games for the New York Rangers, with whom he failed to register a point.

The 20th overall draft pick in 2002, Paille appeared in 582 NHL games with the Sabres, Bruins and Rangers. He won the Stanley Cup in 2011, skating with Shawn Thornton and Gregory Campbell on Boston’s fourth line, a.k.a. the ‘Merlot Line’.

Related: Farewell, Merlot: Bruins parting ways with Paille, Campbell

Wings won’t re-sign Richards, Quincey ‘before July 1, if at all’

Brad Richards
AP
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A couple of veterans are unlikely to be back with the Detroit Red Wings next season.

GM Ken Holland told the Detroit Free Press that he told “Brad Richards and Kyle Quincey that I definitely won’t sign them before July 1, if at all.”

Richards, 36, and Quincey, 30, are both pending unrestricted free agents.

Richards had 10 goals and 18 asssits in 2015-16, his first season with the Wings after winning the Stanley Cup with Chicago.

Quincey indicated recently that he’d like to re-sign, but his spot could be filled by the younger, cheaper Xavier Ouellet.

Related: Good enough to make the playoffs, but ‘nothing more’

Preds are ‘definitely heading in the right direction’: Poile

NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 03:  Colin Wilson #33 celebrates with fans as referee Dan O'Halloran #13 signals goal against of the San Jose Sharks during the third period of Game Three of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on May 3, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) General manager David Poile believes patience might be the remaining ingredient needed for the Nashville Predators to take that “next step.”

The Predators are coming off the longest playoff run in their history and Poile noted Wednesday that they have gone through a myriad of changes the past couple of seasons. They won three of four elimination games before finally losing to San Jose in Game 7 in the second round, and Poile said what Nashville needs more than anything is just a little time.

Nashville’s roster featured five rookies, and Poile made it clear he expects improvement from them along with center Ryan Johansen and a breakthrough from Colin Wilson playing during the regular season like he did during the postseason. Mix with some consistency, Poile likes what he has.

“We are definitely heading in the right direction,” Poile said.

Poile and coach Peter Laviolette summed up the season that ended May 12 with that 5-0 loss to San Jose. Poile noted the Predators were one of only two NHL teams with six players posting at least 50 points along with Florida, and their defense tied with Calgary for most points scored during the regular season thanks to Roman Josi and captain Shea Weber.

Nashville also filled its arena to 99.2 percent of capacity during the regular season and set a single-season franchise attendance record with 35 sellouts. Laviolette thanked fans for bringing an energy to the arena that he hasn’t seen in other buildings. Poile said he’s not calling Nashville a non-traditional hockey market again after what he called a “tremendous ride.”

“This is a hockey city,” Poile said.

To build on this season, the Predators face a busy offseason.

Filip Forsberg, who tied the franchise record with 33 goals, is at the top of the to-do list as a pending restricted free agent. But Forsberg said last weekend he wants to stay in Nashville. Poile said he has no deadline for a new deal and isn’t sure yet if that deal will be for a couple seasons or a longer contract up to six years.

“The goal is to get him signed,” Poile said. “The intention is there on both sides. Filip is very happy here, his agent’s happy he’s here, and we’ve just got to get to work on it.”

A new deal for forward Calle Jarnkrok, another restricted free agent, is another priority after his scoring jumped to 30 points. The Predators also have been talking with the agent for backup goalie Carter Hutton, who went 7-5-4 with a .918 save percentage. Poile said it was too early to know if Juuse Saros or Marek Mazanec currently in the AHL would be options if they don’t sign Hutton to a new deal.

Neither veteran forward Paul Gaustad nor forward Eric Nystrom, due $3 million next season, will be back.

Both Poile and Laviolette want much more from veteran Mike Ribeiro, who was scratched in Games 3 and 4 against San Jose. Laviolette noted Ribeiro, who finished with 50 points in the regular season, played a key role in helping Nashville go from a bubble team into a playoff berth. But the Predators want Ribeiro, who will turn 37 in February and is due $3.5 million next season, to improve his conditioning to be stronger in the postseason.

“Mike really needs to have the summer of his life to regain his position back on the top two lines,” Poile said.