Capitals fans fall under two categories: those who appreciate defenseman Jeff Schultz, and those who don’t. At 6’6, a lot of expected of the 23-year old Calgary native…hitting included. This part of his game is where Caps fans are split down the middle.
Those who argue that Schultz should be playing two hours north of D.C. point out that he refuses to use his size to advantage and is that he is often caught flat-footed. While hitting is expected demanded by a ‘D’ man who towers over the opponent, it is not part of Schultz’s repertoire at this point in his career (.81 hits-per-game), but does not take away what he brings to the table. Skating has been an issue, but Schultz is just in his second full NHL season. In the calendar year of 2006, Schultz made the jump from the WHL, to the AHL playoffs, to playing 38 games with the Capitals. He is only one intense off-season workout from getting that extra jump in his stride.
Schultz is that kind of player that you never notice until he does something wrong. Jeff does a lot of little things right, but it’s those glaring mistakes that stick out in the mind of Capitals fans.
The complaint, rather improvement that Schultz can make to take the next step in developing as a solid ‘D’ man would to increase his tenacity. He lacks aggression and needs to get to the point where opponents are scared of going into the corner with him (see: Zdeno Chara). Right now, he is reluctant to battle along the boards and more times than not, does not come away with the puck when engaged. But Schultz, who participated in his first NHL fight last week, is showing signs of improvement.
The benefit of a slightly less aggressive player is that he is smart and has great discipline. These two factors have helped put Schultz in the top three for penalties taken per 60 minutes by defensemen (min 60 games played). Schultz has a whopping eight minors on the year…heck Sergei Fedorov just picked up three minors in the Capitals’ last home game.
Schultz really should not be judged on his offensive game when he’s got Mike Green to hand the puck off to every time he is out on the ice. However, I will throw out this trivia question: Who had more goals through the first 170 games of their respective careers: Schultz or Chara? (Hint: It’s not Chara). Jeff is most likely not the second-coming of Zdeno, but it could take longer for these big rigs on the back line to develop…Chris Pronger anyone?
So he doesn’t take penalties, doesn’t put himself out of position by looking for a forward with his head down, and has great hockey sense… What else do you want? He’s an un-flashy, stay-at-home ‘D’ man that is no fun to watch, but gets the job done. Yet he will continue to be the target of verbal abuse by ignorant Capitals fans everywhere.