Schultz Sweepstakes Settled, Hype vs Reality Next
He hasn’t even played one NHL game yet, and already Justin Schultz is starting to annoy me.
The Edmonton Oilers agreed to terms with the 22 year old on June 30, ending months of speculation as to which NHL uniform would have his last name stitched on the back of it.
Prior to the media inventing the “Schultz Sweepstakes” schmozzle that began to elevate his billing to an inaccurate Sidney Crosby level (you may remember the Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes of 2005), the kid did a lot of things right – he played Junior ‘A’ hockey rather than Major Junior, which qualified him to earn an NCAA scholarship, plus he got drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in 2008, before his arrival at the University of Wisconsin in 2009. He’s even from my hometown of West Kelowna, BC, Canada, and played with our local junior hockey team (Westside Warriors of the BCHL) from 2006-09. I’ve never met him, but there are a lot of reasons why I should back the kid.
But here’s where Schultz gets a little squirrely to me. My beef boils down to him seeming like a guy that started to believe his own hype, got a little selfish, and dictated his own future in a game that so many young, hopeful players would do/accept anything in order to play at its top level. And if you sense a tinge of jealousy in that statement on my part, it’s because I’m stocked full on it. I just don’t see how a player who hasn’t competed in a single NHL game could have so many teams falling at his feet to sign with them, especially a defenseman. It’s all just so…. Eric Lindros/Quebec Nordiques-ish.
Chronologically speaking, the first thing that bothers me is his seemingly cavalier approach to his college career. His play spoke for itself, winning him seven NCAA awards and two finalist nominations for player of the year while enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, so clearly he earned all the on-ice accolades he collected while there. But after playing out three of (presumably) four years of his eligibility/scholarship, Schultz withdrew from school, and walked away from another free year of education, and likely whatever degree he was working towards.
That move pretty well nullified his rationale of not playing Major Junior hockey in the first place (assuming he had the option as a teenager), and pursuing the college route that every hockey parent hopes their hockey playing child with NHL aspirations will choose instead.
On a personal note, as someone who played college hockey, earned a degree, and is still paying off student loans six years after completion, this move grinds me a little extra. I mean, he couldn’t have waited one more season, graduated, and jumped to the NHL the following season? There’s always the possibility of injury, a down year, or some other stock-dropping scenario to that option, I suppose. And also, when your paycheck is going to start including millions of dollars every year, securing a strong education for the purposes of landing a good paying job to secure your future in a struggling economy probably isn’t a high priority anymore.
Secondly, as an afore mentioned player who would have killed to play in the NHL myself, Schultz turning his nose at the team that drafted him rubs me the wrong way too. Granted, the Ducks sat on him long enough without pulling the trigger that he had the right as per the CBA to entertain offers from the 26 teams that expressed interest (just who were the four teams that didn’t even try, by the way?), so it’s not like Schultz technically did anything wrong here – it’s just that I never had any NHL team interested in me and would have taken anything passed my way (I’m not the only one), especially from the team that claimed me first; whereas Justin Schultz has size and a ton of talent that rightfully garnered him a plethora of interest from nearly every team in the world’s best hockey league once he became an option. The notion of rejecting an NHL team absolutely boggles my mind. If roles were reversed, I’d like to think I would have chosen loyalty and stuck with Anaheim, personally. I was never good enough to find myself sitting in the position he was though, and maybe if the freedom of options that were plunked in his lap were given to me, I very well may have gotten selfish with my future residence too — especially if I had received a persuasive phone call from Wayne Gretzky to try and seal the deal.
Without knowing him personally, I doubt Schultz desired the attention his situation drew, but it certainly was enough to generate an amount of widespread interest that I assume produced a better offer than Anaheim was tabling to him. Good on the kid for getting the amount of money and location that he wanted, not many players get to do that.
Whether you agree with what he did or not, the deal’s done, and the onus now is on Schultz alone to deliver on his own hype. I don’t see it being easy for him – he’s used to playing less than 50 games a year in the NCAA against lower (than the NHL’s) caliber, compared to the NHL’s 82. The NCAA has produced its share of future NHL talent though (Toews, Parise, Miller, Thomas, Keith, Heatley, Kesler, St. Louis, Kessel, etc), so don’t look too far down your nose at the talent pool he most recently developed in. Also, he’ll be no stranger to the travel rigors of playing all over the continent, so that will work in his favor. But beyond that, I don’t have any other bones to throw him.
As we’ve been doing since this all started, all we can do until October when Schultz lines up for his first faceoff as an Oiler is continue to speculate as to whether he will turn out to be the star that some believe he will be, the bust that others predict, or just an average player in the league. Playing alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Nail Yakupov can’t hurt his chances of success – but we’ll see how reality plays out soon enough.
And truthfully, although this little situation does annoy me, I am pulling for the hometown kid to live up to his billing.