SCHULTZ READY TO SHINE FOR THE BARONS
By Bob Przybylo,
Ask rookie defenseman Justin Schultz exactly what NHL legend Wayne Gretzky talked to him about on a phone conversation during the summer, and Schultz doesn’t have an answer.
Truth is the 22-year-old Schultz doesn’t remember. All he remembers was how flattered he was to have somebody as revered as Gretzky reaching out to him to try to convince him to play for the Edmonton Oilers.
Whatever The Great One said, it worked as not long after the conversation and being wooed consistently by Edmonton, Schultz signed with the organization in June.
“I’m never going to forget talking to Gretzky on the phone,” Schultz said. “I couldn’t believe it. I was in absolute shock.”
Schultz, who is 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, was excited about starting his professional career in Edmonton. However, he is being forced to take a detour. With the NHL Lockout ongoing, there is no telling when Schultz will see his first game in an Oilers sweater.
There is no question, however, about when he will suit up in an Oklahoma City Barons sweater. Schultz and the rest of the Barons open their season this weekend in Cleveland for a two-game set against Lake Erie.
Barons head coach Todd Nelson has only been able to work with Schultz for two weeks, but it hasn’t taken long for Nelson to realize what a special talent he has.
“He’s an offensive defenseman,” Nelson said. “The offensive part of his game is exceptional. He’s a fantastic skater and his skill set is exceptional.”
Schultz is happy people are discussing his on-ice qualities instead of dwelling on what happened in the spring and summer. Schultz was drafted in the second round (No. 43 overall) by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft but never signed with the organization.
In May 2012, Schultz chose to de-register from Wisconsin, which gave Anaheim 30 days to try to sign a deal. The deadline passed, and Schultz was on the open market where he didn’t have a lack of suitors.
He said Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Minnesota were the other organizations that made a serious bid for his services. In the end, though, Edmonton did all the right things at the right time.
“The young talent and prospects in the organization really stood out,” Schultz said. “Whether it’s in Edmonton or here in Oklahoma City, there is so much young talent around. The coaches are great, and I wanted a chance to play in Canada.”
That opportunity will come in time. For now, he is solely focused on helping the Barons for as long as he is with the team. Schultz will figure prominently in the power play. Nelson is excited to see what Schultz can do when his club has the man-advantage. He has no worries at all in that situation.
“No, when he has the puck, he does fantastic things,” Nelson said. “We were working on the power play, and he is able to make things happen just because of his instincts. We want to work on getting him more dominant as a player without the puck.”
There were no signs of rust last weekend as Schultz returned to the ice. He scored a goal in last week’s first preseason game and said after the first few shifts, he felt comfortable – felt like he was back at home.
Gretzky is the name that stands out, but Edmonton rolled out all the big guns to try to lure Schultz. In-person meetings with Edmonton front office members Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish helped sway him as did conversations with Edmonton head coach Ralph Krueger and Edmonton star left-winger Taylor Hall.
And another NHL legend, Paul Coffey, also had a phone conversation with Schultz describing what makes Edmonton the right place for him.
“It was crazy. Things were almost too out of control,” Schultz said. “I’m just a kid who wants to play hockey. I’m glad I get the chance to do it again.”
And glad he can do it for the Barons.
“I haven’t been here that long, but I can tell this is going to be a fun place to play,” Schultz said. “The guys are young and hungry. It’s going to be a lot of fun for however long we’re down here.
“Most people look at something like this as a negative. I see this as a positive. It’s a chance to start my pro career with a great organization. I can’t be upset.”
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