Oklahoma City Barons: Rookie Justin Schultz on hot path to the NHL

The Barons defenseman leads the American Hockey League in scoring with 16 points. Schultz and the Barons will host Toronto at 10:35 a.m. Tuesday in annual Field Trip Day game at Cox Center.
by Michael Baldwin Published: November 12, 2012
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photo - AHL HOCKEY: Justin Schultz of the Barons controls the puck as the Oklahoma City Barons play the Houston Aeros in an American Hockey League game at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, October 26, 2012: ORG XMIT: SCPA0378    PHOTO BY STEVEN CHRISTY, FOR THE OKLAHOMAN
AHL HOCKEY: Justin Schultz of the Barons controls the puck as the Oklahoma City Barons play the Houston Aeros in an American Hockey League game at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, October 26, 2012: ORG XMIT: SCPA0378 PHOTO BY STEVEN CHRISTY, FOR THE OKLAHOMAN

Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini cautioned before the Barons season opener that rookie defenseman Justin Schultz might need a little time to adjust to professional hockey.

Turns out the American Hockey League is trying to adjust to Schultz's pro debut.

Heading into the Oklahoma City Barons' Field Trip Education game at 10:35 a.m. Tuesday against Toronto at the Cox Convention Center, Schultz leads the AHL in scoring with 16 points.

It's been a dozen years since an AHL defenseman has finished in the top 10 in scoring. No defenseman has ever led the league in scoring. Not even close.

“It's awesome to see he's so dynamic,” said Barons forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft. “He's the kind of guy you want to get him the puck in the offensive zone. It's nice to have a D-man like that on the power play.”

Schultz has seven goals. He's the only defenseman in the top 10 in goals scored. His most recent goal was the game-winner 1:38 into overtime Saturday night against Abbotsford, a 2-1 OKC decision that ended a three-game winless streak.

“He's been impressive,” said forward Jordan Eberle, who led the Oilers in scoring last season. “He drives in and has his head up at all times. He's off to a great start, a great player.”

At age 22, the two-time All-American at Wisconsin is older than Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall, the same as Eberle. The other three already have NHL experience and are the Oilers' No. 1 forward line that's playing in Oklahoma City during the NHL lockout.

Is Schultz surprised by his quick start that's included AHL Rookie of the Month and AHL Player of the Week awards?

“I'm just trying to play my game,” Schultz said. “I'm not trying to be something that I'm not. I'm just trying to go out there and do what I've done, the things that got me here. All the guys have made it really easy on me.

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by Michael Baldwin
Reporter
Mike Baldwin has been a sports reporter for The Oklahoman since 1982. Mike graduated from Okmulgee High School in 1974 and attended Oklahoma Christian University, graduating with a journalism degree in 1978. Mike's first job was sports editor...
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