Justin Schultz is a 30-year-old free agent defenseman coming off of the last year of his contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Drafted in the second-round of the 2008 entry draft, Schultz has been in the NHL for nine years. He played nearly four seasons for the Edmonton Oilers before being traded to Pittsburgh in early 2016 for a third-round pick.
Schultz has been with Pittsburgh ever since, playing on both of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup teams while logging nearly twenty minutes a night. His best season was the 2016-17 run, where he tallied 12 goals and 39 assists in 78 regular-season games. Additionally, he had 13 points in 21 playoff contests.
However, after breaking his ankle in 2018, Justin Schultz has struggled to put together a full season. He played only 29 games in 2018-19, and just 46 games this past season. Adding the fact that Schultz was not a bright spot for Pittsburgh in their qualifying series loss to Montreal, we will probably see the veteran defenseman elsewhere next season.
Fit With New Jersey
I imagine Pittsburgh will move on from Schultz, as the Penguins realize with age and injury, defensemen often lose speed and agility. That being said, Justin Schultz could be of value to a team with a young, weak-defense, like the New Jersey Devils.
At six-foot-two and 190 pounds, Justin Schultz would certainly add size and experience to the group. He would potentially serve as a placeholder until Reilly Walsh is ready to play NHL minutes. Adding Schultz alone to the back-end this offseason would probably make the Devils defense look like this:
Will Butcher – Damon Severson
Ty Smith – P.K. Subban
Mirco Mueller/ Connor Carrick – Justin Schultz
Not exactly a desirable top-six, but still better than where the team is at right now. You might compare Schultz to say Kevin Shattenkirk, as his production has regressed in the last couple of years, but he’s still an NHL-level defenseman. Plus, Schultz’ has faced injury issues, so he will likely be cheaper than his last deal of three years at $5,500,000.
A safe bid for New Jersey to make would be for two-years at somewhere between three and four million of average annual salary. At that point, the Devils could assess where they are with defensive prospects Ty Smith, Reilly Walsh, Kevin Bahl, and Nikita Okhotyuk. As well as with core defensemen whose contracts expire that year like P.K. Subban and Will Butcher.
All in all, it would be a pretty underwhelming pickup for the New Jersey Devils, but potentially a valuable one. If Schultz can play full seasons with New Jersey and bring a little bit of relief for Mackenzie Blackwood, that’s worth something.
The way I see it, by signing Justin Schultz we could affordably replace Andy Greene with a better, younger defenseman. Also, one who doesn’t turn the puck over as much as say, Damon Severson, P.K. Subban, or Sami Vatanen.