Unrestricted free agent defenseman Justin Schultz signed an one-year, $1.4 million contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 26-year old Kelowna native was scheduled to enter the offseason as a restricted free agent. Likely due to his $3.9 million salary, The Penguins did not submit a qualifying offer to keep his rights allowing Schultz to test the open market. However, he ends up returning to the team that rejuvenated his season.
Justin Schultz Re-Signed By Penguins
Originally drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in 2008, Schultz left the University of Wisconsin at the conclusion of his junior year. Schultz used a loophole in the collective bargaining agreement which caused the Anaheim Ducks to lose his rights after they were unable to sign him. Ultimately, Schultz signed with the Edmonton Oilers as an unrestricted free agent. The Oilers reportedly asked Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey talk to the highly sought after Schultz to woo the talented defender. Schultz would go on to play 248 games in Edmonton registering 28 goals and 73 assists.
Over three and half season, Schultz had gone from a key defensive piece of the Oilers seemingly endless rebuild to whipping boy due in large part to deficiencies in his own zone. Finally, the Oilers traded Schultz two days before the NHL trade deadline to the Penguins for a 2016 third-round pick.
Limited Games with Pittsburgh
Schultz had difficulty cracking the line-up with the eventual Stanley Cup Champions. He skated in just 18 regular season contests with Pittsburgh and only 15 postseason games. Schultz did find himself cemented in the lineup after the injury to Trevor Daley as was part of a steady blueline corps that choked the life out of the high-scoring San Jose Sharks as the Penguins won the Stanley Cup Final in six games.
The offensive ability of Schultz is evident. He’s a smooth skating defenseman possessing a crisp first pass and above-average offensive instincts. His defensive play has yet to catch up with the rest of his game. The challenge of getting another opportunity with Pittsburgh will be to instill some level of responsibility in his zone while not stifling the offensive production.
Schultz was also named to the Last Word On Sports 2016 All Unqualified Team.