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Numbers Game: Oilers secure Schultz's services

Scott Cullen
7/1/2012 12:50:42 AM
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Rare is the player to have yet to play an NHL game, yet still cause such a feeding frenzy as an unrestricted free agent. Defenceman Justin Schultz is one of those players and he picked his new club Saturday.

Numbers Game looks at Edmonton's big acquisition on the free agent market.

The Oilers Get: D Justin Schultz.

A second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2008, Justin Schultz used his leverage, as a highly-desired commodity coming out of college, to spark a bidding war for his services.

Schultz, 22, reportedly had 26 teams express interest and it's not hard to understand why. He was the top-scoring defenceman in the nation in each of the last two seasons, tallying 34 goals and 91 points in 78 games for the University of Wisconsin. By way of comparison, the second-highest scoring collegiate blueliner over the last two seasons is Danny Biega, a Carolina Hurricanes third-round pick in 2010 who had 65 points in 68 games over the last two seasons while playing at Harvard.

In Edmonton, Schultz joins what is obviously a promising young team, but one that sorely needed an upgrade on defence, which means Schultz should step into a regular role with significant power play time immediately. Veteran Ryan Whitney is a proven power play quarterback, but health issues have dogged him in recent years, so Schultz could be a big part of what is already a successful power play (ranked third in the league last season at 20.6%).

A right-handed shot, Schultz could have an opportunity to man the point on the Oilers' top power play unit and that kind of role right off the bat could give him a shot at 40 points (or more) as a rookie next season. Since 2000-2001, there have been five defencemen to tally at least 40 points as a rookie (Marek Zidlicky, Dion Phaneuf, Tyler Myers, Kevin Shattenkirk and Cam Fowler).

Joining a team with as many skilled forwards (including Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Sam Gagner) as they have in Edmonton does put Schultz in a favourable long-term position to put up points; assuming, of course, that the Oilers can keep this core together for years to come.

Schultz is signed for the next two seasons and, considering the demand for his services, it's expected that the deal comes with a cap hit of $3.775-million per year, which is comprised of $925,000 base salary and $2.85-million in potential bonuses. He'll be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2014.

While there are no guarantees that Schultz will be an impact player in the NHL, he has that upside, so landing him as a free agent is a huge win for the Oilers, who have not been winning a lot of bidding wars for most-desirable unrestricted free agents in recent years.

Any team that could add a potential top-four defenceman without losing anything off their current roster would take the deal, but Edmonton's specific needs on the blueline make this a tremendous fit. Now it's up to Schultz to prove that he's capable of producing as a pro.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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