the story of jeff schultz

(photo by Brian Murphy)

When it’s all said and done, June 26, 2004 may go down as one of the most significant dates in the history of the Washington Capitals.

That’s when the turnaround began as a rebuilding Capitals franchise, armed with three first rounders, headed into one of the deepest NHL drafts in recent history.

With the top pick overall, the Capitals selected left wing Alexander Ovechkin. With their other two first-round picks, they selected defensemen Jeff Schultz (27th overall) and Mike Green (29th overall).

Since then, Ovechkin and Green have become two of the league’s best at their respective positions, and just as importantly, they’ve became two of the cornerstones of the franchise, anchoring Bruce Boudreau’s high-octane offense as the Capitals have returned to respectability.

Schultz, on the other hand, has taken a slightly different path. At 6-6 and 224 lbs., he possesses the prototypical NHL defenseman’s body. Many Caps fans took one look at him and envisioned the next Rod Langway or Scott Stevens type of player who would punish any opposing player dumb enough to come near the crease. Truth is, Schultz isn’t that guy and never will be.

Being sandwiched between Ovechkin and Green on draft day and unrealistic expectations from a fanbase spoiled by some of the most dominating defensemen of the modern era has made Schultz the most polarizing player on the Capitals. Some love him. Some love to hate him. But know this – his teammates respect him for what he brings to the table.

“Experience goes a long way in this league,” said Caps defenseman Tom Poti of Schultz. “You can tell he’s a lot more comfortable out there than in years past, and when you’re more comfortable out there you’re able to play better. I think he’s having a great season for us.

“He’s very steady. He’s never out of position or out of a play, and he’s been playing very well for us,” Poti continued. “He’s really been huge for us out there, giving us another defenseman we can count on back there.”

One of the biggest reasons the Capitals can count on Schultz is because his plus/minus rating is so stellar. While fans might expect to see names like Ovechkin, Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin and New Jersey’s Zach Parise among the league leaders, they don’t necessarily expect to see Schultz in the same company. But as of this morning, he’s tied for fifth in the league with a plus 23.

“It’s a meaningful stat to me,” Schultz said. “I’m not going to be out there scoring goals like Ovi, but I take a ton of pride in working hard, being good in our zone and preventing goals. I look at the plus/minus as a big part of my game.”

Your teammates seem to think you’re playing with more confidence this season. What do you attribute that to?

“I think that I’m not worrying about any mistakes I might make out there,” he said. “I’m not trying to do too much. I’m just going out, playing my game and taking it as it comes. I’m just playing hockey the way I know how.”

Are you aware of the love/hate relationship that a fraction of the fanbase has developed towards you?

“Some of the guys were asking if I’d ever read the message boards or anything,” Schultz said. “That’s their opinion. They’re entitled to it. I’m out there trying to do my best and if they don’t like it, that’s fine. People have told me that I’m a guy some of the fans don’t like, but I’m not too worried about that.”

We can’t help but think that some fans took one look at you and rushed to judgment, deciding you were going to be this big, bruising defenseman. Maybe they just needed time to get used to your game and to see what your game is about. What say you?

“I think that’s fair,” he said. “Being a first round pick, like Ovi and Mike, they see all the success they’ve had and maybe they wonder why I haven’t had that success yet. I think the kind of game I play; I’m not a flashy guy like them. I just try to do what I have to do out there.”

How would you describe your game?

“Nothing too flashy,” Schultz said. “I’m just trying to get back to pucks and move them up to the forwards as quickly as possible. I’m trying to make smart decisions with the puck in our zone. Focusing on our zone is a real key to my game and not allowing big plays for opposing teams is important. I’m trying to win all the battles in the corners and in front of the net.”

If that’s how you see yourself, then the two biggest stats for you would be plus/minus and your ice time, right?

“Absolutely, that’s how I see it,” he said.

Schultz ranks in the top five in the NHL in plus/minus and the top five on the Capitals in ice time, averaging more than 19 minutes a game. If those are the two most important statistics to the 23-year-old, then he’s got to be pleased. One thing is for sure, Boudreau is definitely happy with him.

“Jeff is playing the best he’s played in his career in this stretch,” Boudreau said earlier this month. “His plus minus, sometimes it’s a stat that you can look at and say it’s a real good stat or it doesn’t mean much. But every time you look up, he’s on for two goals for and none against. I think he’s a plus 23 in less than 50 games, which is a real good indicator that when he’s on the ice, something good is going to happen.”

Sure, he’s not Ovechkin or Green. He’s not Langway or Stevens. He’s simply a blue-collar worker who shows up every day and does the little things that often times go unnoticed to the casual fan. He’s fine with it and so are his teammates and coaches. We have a feeling that if he continues his strong play, Caps fans will eventually come around on him too.

Author Description

b murf

I'm a D.C. sports blogger, professional photographer and an eternal pessimist. All I want in life is for Al Iafrate to finally call and admit he's my father.

Comments

  1. January 26, 2010

    He looks much better in the defensive end, in that he does not do little mistakes anymore. I don’t hear the people around me who do not appreciate his play going, “WTF?!?!” anymore. Which makes the game that much more enjoyable to watch for me.

  2. January 26, 2010

    If I played on a line with OV, Backie, Knuble (sometimes semin), and was paired with green I would have a top 5 plus minus rating…If he is so great use him as trade bait to get us a shut down D

  3. January 26, 2010

    The anti-Schultz camp bases their case on the faulty premise that a defenseman isn’t good if he doesn’t make bone-crunching checks all the time. Well Brendan Witt does, and he is absolutely terrible. Give me an efficient, consistent, positionally sound (and underrated puck-mover) 10 times out of 10 over the overpaid and overhyped Phaneuf’s of the world who can hit but simply can’t defend. Keeping pucks out of your net is the goal and Schultz does it better than anyone. K.G. gets a timeout.

  4. January 26, 2010

    Appreciate his play? When everyone looked around last year after the other team scored asking “Was Schultz on the ice?”, because more times he was, than not.

  5. January 27, 2010

    Schultz is solid. He covers up the turnovers of his more skilled teammates (cough… Mike Green… cough). Plus, he has been good on the PK this season.

  6. January 27, 2010

    Krol2 -

    yes. that was LAST year. did you read the article? I used to be the conductor on the “Bash Schultz” train, but I’ve done a complete 180 this year. he looks calm, collected and makes GREAT exit passes out of the zone to the forwards. that is a very underrated part of his game. he does still look a bit clumsy at times and sometimes i cringe when he has the puck on the point, but he’s definitely improving each game.

  7. January 27, 2010

    If I played on a line with OV, Backie, Knuble (sometimes semin), and was paired with green I would have a top 5 plus minus rating.

    The Capitals don’t play five man units, they play forward lines and defense pairings.

    But even if they did, that wouldn’t explain why Schultz has been first, tied for first, second, and first among team defensemen in +/- his four year with the Caps. Or why his goals against per sixty is lower than anyone other than Pothier and Erskine (who play against weak competition), even though Schultz plays against pretty good opponents. Or why his GVT is higher than all the team’s defenseman aside of Green. Or why his defensive GVT is the highest among Washington blueliners.

    Appreciate his play? When everyone looked around last year after the other team scored asking “Was Schultz on the ice?”, because more times he was, than not.

    Actually, Schultz was middle of the pack in goals against 5-on-5 and above average 4-on-5 and played against stiffer competition than most of the Capitals defensemen.

  8. January 27, 2010

    Trade bait for shut-down D? We have a shut-down D. His name is Jeff Schultz.

    I used to hate on the guy as much if not more than anybody, but he’s just quietly effective. He’s great at being in the way and has a long reach. Yeah, he’s slow and if he knocks the puck away into the corner he’s not going to beat anyone to it, but I’m perfectly comfortable having him as a top-4 D-man.

  9. January 27, 2010

    @K.G. – Schultz basically IS a shut down D. Plus he’s young, cheap, and the Caps control his RFA rights. Trading him would be a huge mistake.

  10. January 27, 2010

    @ DC Landing…You don’t need to be a big hitter to be a solid d-man. You just need to be quick and postionally sound. Schultz is neither of these, he is constanly caught out of postion. Fourtently the offense does back check occasionaly and ends up saving him. As a puck moving defenseman, anyone on the caps blue line can be classified as one of those with such a skilled, highpowered front. Time out over.

    @ DMG

    You are correct, they don’t play 5 man units, however more often than not the green and schultz paring is on the ice the same time the number one offense line is.

    @ Sombrero Guy

    Schultz is far from a shut down d-man. He gets beat more often then not in one on and one sitations. You rarely see him in odd man rushes because he is slow and can’t get back from being out of postion. I would dump him in a minute, who would want RFA rights for a guy like that?

    K.G OUT!

  11. January 27, 2010

    Here’s a guy with still less than three full years of NHL experience (in games), a defenseman who has improved from a plus-5 (on an awful team) to plus-25 on a very good team. The team has grown…he has grown. It’s called development, and these days, part of that is Jeff Schultz not being on the ice for goals scored against.

  12. January 27, 2010

    I would dump him in a minute, who would want RFA rights for a guy like that?

    People who understand that he’s a valuable player by just about any reasonable metric.

  13. January 27, 2010

    If I played on a line with OV, Backie, Knuble (sometimes semin), and was paired with green I would have a top 5 plus minus rating…If he is so great use him as trade bait to get us a shut down D
    ——-
    Cled

  14. January 27, 2010

    >>>”Appreciate his play? When everyone looked around last year after the other team scored asking “Was Schultz on the ice?”, because more times he was, than not.”

    Actually, that stats prove that’s a falsehood. Schultz was among the more competent defensemen last year, despite facing top lines more than any other Caps blueliner while having the second most even-strength and penalty kill minutes among the d-corps. http://www.japersrink.com/2009/6/16/910518/2008-09-rink-wrap-jeff-schultz

    But keep under appreciating him. Makes him easier to sign.

  15. January 27, 2010

    If he was so great how come he played a total of 12 minutes during the playoffs last season(One game). He is very much improved this year, but last year…not so much. I remember a certain Habs game where he just let a puck go between his legs and not even hit or bump the player near him, as the player just went right by and scored. And I saw a lot of that from him last year. Play time, fine, he had that, but what he did with it….

  16. January 27, 2010

    At Krol2

    I know for a fact you are illiterate. So I want to know how you commented on my comment, which was about last year, which you were commenting on, not the article.

    And I do thank Sergei Shultz for improving this year. I no longer go WHOOP WHOOP in my head when he has the puck (which was to drown your anger out Krol2).

  17. January 28, 2010

    If any Caps D-Man is overrated, it’s Schultzy’s partner. Mike “Brain Fart” Green has scored a lot of goals, but he’s also made a ton of stupid plays that end up in his own net.

    Krol2 and KG are just proving how dumb the average Caps fan is.

  18. January 28, 2010

    it’s not his fault that he’s terrible. the guy can’t skate. he’d be great for a gym class floor hockey team. considering where he went in the draft he’s a HUGE disappointment

  19. January 28, 2010

    Washington fans have a poor history when it comes to defensemen. They booed Rick Green to Montreal, where he won a Stanley Cup. They “whooped” Larry Murphy into a couple of Stanley Cup rings and the Hockey Hall of Fame. So if they’re booing Jeff Schultz, he must be doing something right.

  20. February 7, 2010

    The Caps are coming together so well as a team! Isn’t that what is important? Jeff Schultz is obviously a big part of that and the Caps would be foolish to not re-sign him. If it is so easy for him because he plays with Mike Green alot, how come he has a better plus-minus than Green? I think it is a great pairing.

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