I'm sure that if you're reading this blog by now you've heard of Justin Schultz, but for those who haven't, Schultz is an uber-talented offensive-defenseman who just finished his Junior year at the University of Wisconsin. While a Badger, he shared the blueline with the likes of Ryan McDonagh, Jake Gardiner (of the Leafs) and Brendan Smith (of the Wings), all of whom are on their way to NHL stardom. If you don't know Gardiner and Smith yet, you will after the upcoming season.
Of course projecting NHL output from college statistics is a complete crap-shoot, but just for fun.. All four players played 3 years at Wisconsin. In 119 games, McDonagh put up 14 goals and 32 assists for 46 points, as he's the least offensive of the foursome. In 121 games, Gardiner put up 19 G - 56 A - 75 P, while in 95 games Smith put up 26 G - 61 A - 87 P. Justin Schultz played 121 games and put up 40 G - 73 A - 113 P. Those are some pretty gaudy numbers, especially the 40 goals as a defenseman! It's no wonder why so many teams are rabidly pursuing the rookie UFA, but us Ranger fans need only to look back at players like Matt Gilroy and Bobby Sanguinetti to know that none of those stats really matter when you're on the ice with the best players in the world. Gilroy's 23 G - 61 A - 84 P line over his last three years of college made it look like we had a steal at under $2M a season.. Equally exciting was Sanguinetti's 66 G - 122 A - 188 P line in his last 196 OHL games.. but I digress.
The media has created quite a whirlwind around Schultz (who has yet to play a single NHL game..), many naming him the third biggest free agent on the market behind Parise and Suter. The kid is in a rare situation which is attractive to those counting on sparking reader interest. He was drafted in 2008 after a strong season in the BCHL. By playing another year of Canadian juniors in 2009 before attending college, Schultz satisfied the four year post-draft signing period in the current CBA before graduating. What makes this case different is the fact that he did not sign a contract with the team that drafted him, the Anaheim Ducks. Don't blame the Ducks, though. They have been salivating as he has lit up college hockey, and have tried desperately to get him signed. Schultz is leaving school early and becoming a UFA because he does not want to play in California.
What strikes me about this decision is the fact that while it makes perfect sense that nearly every team in the league is interested in signing Schultz, especially considering he will still have to sign an entry-level contract which will keep his salary and cap hit down, not once have I heard anyone question this kids character. I understand that there probably aren't many kids growing up in Canada that dream of one day playing for the Anaheim Ducks, but isn't there supposed to be some level of respect and gratitude towards the team that drafted you? Doesn't anyone else look at this public slap in the face and think that this kid, who has yet to do anything at the pro level, maybe has a bit too high an opinion of himself? NHL media pundits love to dissect the character issues of players. This has led to the questions about such skilled players as Theo Fleury, or more recently Alex Radulov. One reason that Claude Giroux fell to the 22nd pick (the pick after the aforementioned Sanguinetti ugh) at the 2006 draft was over questions about his character, and yet no one wants to talk about Schultz?
I get it. He's a free first round draft pick. Who would question that? I'm not saying that I wouldn't want my team to take a chance on an entry-level contract with Schultz. What I'm saying is that there is another side to this story that isn't being talked about and I don't know why no one in the mainstream media wants to. I guess only time will tell.