After averaging 3.44 goals-against per game from December 22 onward, the most among the 24 teams that participated in the NHL’s return-to-play plan, the Washington Capitals signed three defensemen in Justin Schultz, Trevor Van Riemsdyk, and Paul LaDue and signed Henrik Lundqvist to a one-year contract after seeing Braden Holtby depart via free agency. While Lundqvist was the highest-profile signing the Capitals made this offseason, Schultz is expected to have the biggest impact as the team’s No. 4 defenseman after signing a two-year contract that carries a $4 million cap hit. NoVa Caps takes a closer look at the 30-year-old blueliner:
Schultz was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks 43rd overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft but has played for the Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins in his eight-season NHL career. He recorded at least 27 points in each of his first three seasons with the Oilers but never earned higher than a -17 rating in any of them.
After getting traded to the Penguins at the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline, Schultz cemented himself as one of a respectable offensive defenseman in the NHL as he posted one goal and eight points in 18 regular-season games after the trade and four goals and 13 points in 21 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help the Penguins raise the first of two back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships.
Following that, Schultz broke out for the best offensive season of his career with 12 goals, 51 points, and a +27 rating in 78 games during the 2016-17 season, including 20 power-play points as he got much more time on the man advantage with star defenseman Kris Letang missing half of the season due to numerous injuries.
Schultz also came in 10th in Norris Trophy voting as the NHL’s best defenseman of the season. He earned four goals, 13 points, and a +3 rating in 21 games during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs where he shouldered more responsibility as the Penguins’ top defenseman with Letang missing the entire tournament.
Since his breakout year, Schultz has declined as he has not recorded more than four goals in any of the past three seasons and his point total has gone down each year. In fact, Schultz’s -13 rating this past season was the worst he had during in a single season in his four years in Pittsburgh. He finished this past season with three goals and 12 points in 46 games. Schultz missed a lot of time in the last two seasons due to injury as he has only played in 75 games over that time.
In his 482 career regular-season games, Schultz has posted 50 goals, 214 points, and a -35 rating, but his plus-minus skyrocketed after he got traded to the Penguins until this past season. In 56 career Stanley Cup Playoff games, he has posted six goals, 29 points, and a +3 rating.
Schultz recorded a 49.77% Corsi-for percentage, which was actually the highest he has had in each of the past three seasons, and a 51.2% expected goals-for percentage during the 2019-20 season. He earned a 0.983 PDO and last season was the first time where the goaltenders behind him did not record a save percentage of at least 92.53. Pittsburgh’s goalie tandem posted a 90.86 percentage, but goaltender Matt Murray had the worst year of his NHL career where he went 20-11-5 with a career-low .899 save percentage, including .904 at five-on-five, and a 2.87 goals-against average.
While he has not been known as a great defensive defenseman throughout his NHL career, Peter Laviolette will have been the best defensive coach Schultz has played under and perhaps he could get some better defensive play from Schultz.
Schultz recorded an average of 0.13 penalties-per-60 last season, which was last among all Penguins players to appear in at least seven games.
While averaging 19:52 per game this past season, including 2:45 on the power-play (second among Penguins’ defenseman behind Letang) and just 10 seconds on the penalty kill, Schultz recorded an average of 2.36 hits-per-60 (last among Penguins defensemen), 3.28 blocked shots-per-60 (seventh), 1.18 giveaways-per-60 (second), and 0.39 takeaways-per-60 (last among those who played at least nine games). Schultz recorded a 49.9% shot-attempts for percentage last season, which ranked seventh among Penguins’ defenseman. The Penguins’ 19.9% power-play efficiency this past season was slightly below the league average.
Since arriving in Pittsburgh, Schultz has never received less than 54.5% of his zone starts in the offensive zone, including at least 55.6% in each of the past four seasons. He recorded an expected plus-minus, which is calculated based on where the shots come from while one is on the ice at five-on-five, of +2.7 last season, and has had a positive expected plus-minus in each but one of his five seasons with the Penguins.
At five-on-five last season, Schultz recorded a 0.8 goals-above expected, an expected 0.18 goals-per-60, and 0.7 goals above shooting talent, according to MoneyPuck. Schultz spent most of last season on the Penguins’ second-pairing with Marcus Pettersson. The two played 482.5 minutes at five-on-five together, the second-most on the team behind the top-pairing of Letang and Jack Johnson (533). When deployed together, Schultz and Pettersson recorded a 53.6% expected goals percentage (fourth-best), including a team-high 20.2 expected goals-for but a 17.5% expected goals-against (second-highest). The two combined for a team-high 23 goals-for but 20 against (second-highest) when together. Schultz and Pettersson recorded a 52.7% Corsi-for percentage.
Schultz, a right-handed shot, is expected to begin the 2020-21 season next to Dmitry Orlov and could get a spot on the Capitals’ second power-play unit.
By Harrison Brown