At Barons training camp last October, former Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini cautioned it might take a little time for rookie defenseman Justin Schultz to adjust to professional hockey following a three-year college career at Wisconsin.
Turned out, American Hockey League opponents had difficulty adjusting to Schultz, an offensive defenseman who quarterbacked a potent power play.
The Oilers will play the Dallas Stars on Friday night at the Cox Convention Center in an NHL preseason finale for both teams.
“I'm looking forward to it,” Schultz said. “We can go back to some of the places we hung out. It was a lot of fun on and off the ice in Oklahoma City.”
It's always fun when you fill up a stat sheet.
On pace to shatter every scoring record for a defenseman in the AHL's 55-year history, Schultz was named the AHL Defenseman of the Year. It was the first time in league history a rookie won the Eddie Shore Trophy.
Schultz won the award even though he played in only 45 percent of the games. He joined the Oilers in early January after the lockout ended.
“That surprised me since I missed more than half the season,” Schultz said. “I felt honored to get an award like that. I owe a lot to my teammates. They scored a ton of goals.”
Schultz did his share of scoring. Named the AHL Player of the Month in October, the AHL Rookie of the Month in November, Schultz scored 18 goals and added 30 assists.
Accumulating 48 points in 34 games are insane stats for a defenseman.
Schultz was so dominant that when the NHL lockout ended he was second in the AHL in scoring behind Barons and Oilers teammate Jordan Eberle. Schultz tied for the AHL defensemen scoring title with Bridgeport's Matt Donovan, the Edmond native, even though Donovan played twice as many games (75).
Schultz excelled as the point man on an elite power play unit.
“It's safe to say he took the league by storm,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “He scored the game-winner the second game and never looked back. His scoring pace for a defenseman in this league was unmatched.”
Tambellini's cautionary warning did apply to the NHL, at least the final two months.
Starting his pro career in Oklahoma City at age 22, Schultz played 76 pro games last year, nearly double the number of games he played at Wisconsin.
Statistical trends revealed the 6-foot-2, 190-pound blue liner hit the wall. That's not uncommon for rookies. The final two months, his production dropped off.
“I didn't feel like I was worn down, but looking back it was a lot longer season than I was used to,” Schultz said. “But that will benefit me. I worked out to get stronger. This season I know what to expect.”
Despite the late-season fade, Schultz led all AHL rookie defensemen in goals (eight), assists (19) and points (27). He was just the seventh Oiler in 30 seasons to be named to the NHL All-Rookie team.
Schultz can hold his own on the defensive end, too.
“One thing that sort of goes unnoticed is his defense,” Nelson said. “His outlet passes are exceptional.”
Most hockey analysts believe Edmonton is close to becoming a perennial playoff team. USA Today asked 29 of the NHL's top players to choose one team that will rise to become a powerhouse the next three seasons. The Oilers received 16 votes. No other team accumulated more than five.
Can the Oilers end an eight-year playoff drought?
“We've got a lot of talent on this team,” Schultz said. “We're excited about the future. If we keep working hard we can be right in the thick of (the playoff chase).”