No AHL rookie blue-liner has scored more than 20 goals or 66 points. The AHL single-season record for points by a defenseman is 96, set 19 years ago by Chris Snell of the St. John's Maple Leafs.
“The amount of success he's had has been a little mind-boggling,” Eaves said. “We knew he would have success. But to lead the American League in points speaks to two things. It speaks to that extra year of college helped him. And it speaks to the level of ability of his teammates.
“They have a lot of high-end kids down there in Oklahoma City. Put some high-end kids together, and they're able to do some pretty special things.”
Named the AHL Player of the Month in October and the Rookie of the Month in November, the Westbank, British Columbia, Canada native always had the skill set. Now he has the size.
Whether he's able to match the standards of NHL defensive greats such as Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque or former Edmonton Oilers star Paul Coffey remains to be seen.
“His ability to see the ice and make things happen is very special,” Eaves said. “But there's still another step to make at the National Hockey League level. Let's not kid ourselves. He's given some indications that he's going to be able to do some things. But it's another step, another level. He realizes that.”
The Oilers drafted one of the greatest offensive defensemen in NHL history in Coffey, part of the Wayne Gretzky-era dynasty. Coffey, who played 22 seasons for nine different teams, ranks second all-time among defensemen in career goals and assists.
Nelson compares Schultz's game to Los Angeles All-Star defenseman Drew Doughty, the No. 2 overall pick in that 2008 draft who last season helped the Kings win the Stanley Cup.
“Justin is playing brilliant hockey right now,” Nelson said. “He's an impact player. Obviously, we'll have to see how he does in the National League once it starts up. But he's that type of player. That bodes well for the Edmonton Oilers. It's pretty exciting for the organization.”
Schultz is an example that delaying a pro career can be beneficial.
“Those three years in college were big for me,” Schultz said. “I still have a lot to learn, but I'm probably playing the best hockey of my life right now.”