Remember when Justin Schultz came into the NHL riding tidal waves of hype?
The Edmonton Oilers went all-out in courting him; even Wayne Gretzky called him to cajole Schultz into joining the cause.
After even Schultz acknowledged recent struggles, the Oilers sent him to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a third-round pick, and many jeered at an offensive defenseman whose stats have often been disappointing.
So, the question is: how are the Penguins going to approach the 25-year-old defenseman who often receives derisive jokes about not being a defenseman?
If nothing else, Schultz told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he’s excited to join the Penguins, and how to find/rekindle his game.
“Really excited. Really excited to come to Pittsburgh. I think it will suit my game well,” Schultz said. “I got to the NHL by being a good offensive defenseman. That maybe got away from me a little bit this year. Hopefully, I’ll get it back and not be a liability defensively but want the puck and go.”
GM Jim Rutherford believes that a change of scenery “is going to be good,” but TSN’s Darren Dreger laid out more specifics about how the team actually aims to get the most out of Schultz.
Gonchar may relate to at least some of what Schultz is going through as an offensive defenseman.
Perhaps Schultz will also benefit merely from being less of a go-to guy with the Penguins, as Kris Letang will continue to shoulder far more of the scoring expectations.
Maybe the biggest factor of all is motivation: as a pending free agent, Schultz has a lot of money to gain in nailing this opportunity.