Every Oilers fan’s favorite goat from last season had what could be described as his best NHL game since his rookie season. Justin Schultz was spectacular tonight against the Jets, playing in all situations. He played on the power play (notching the Oilers first goal of the game off a wicked shot), played a solid even strength game, and he was particularly effective on the penalty kill, helping the Oilers go 7 for 7 on the PK. Not only was he effective with and without the puck, he was physical, solid with his board play, and even mixed it up in a scrum after a late check on d-pairing partner Oscar Klefbom.
Recently, Schultz had stated his goal in the off season was to get stronger on the puck, and add “explosiveness” to his game. He also stated he had a directive from new coach Todd McLellan to shoot the puck more. He accomplished all of his goals in spades this evening. While it’s important to keep in mind the Jets iced their B squad for this preseason game, Schultz put his money where his mouth is, and made good on all his promises. By my eye, he was the best player of the game. Something we haven’t been able to say about Justin since he lit up the AHL during the last NHL lockout.
While I’ll be the first to admit I love the term “Jultzing”, there was no Jultzing tonight. Schultz looked focused, engaged, poised with the puck, and is demonstrating a willingness to direct more shots on net at every opportunity he is given. After a difficult year last season, I couldn’t be happier for him. I’ve always had a soft spot for Schultz. I like his attitude, I like his enthusiasm, and I like his skill set. He has all the tools to be a great offensive defenseman. He just needs to put them together and utilize them fully.
Unfortunately for the Oilers, this is a contract year for Schultz, and if he can find the consistency required to play the way he did tonight through the regular season, he’ll be due for a raise. This could complicate things capwise for a team that is trying to manage it’s finances carefully so it can pay McDavid when he exits his ELC. For Schultz and his agent, it could be a career changing season. I hope the best for him either way, and I firmly believe he’ll have a career year. Despite his defensive deficiencies, he still led all Oilers defensemen in points last season, and is more than equipped to do so again.
Post game thoughts:
-I thought Darnell Nurse had a decent game. He led all Oilers in minutes through the 1st period with 7:21 TOI. He was physical, highly mobile, and made good decisions with the puck for the most part. It was unfortunate that he was pretty much responsible for the Jets first goal, however. He rushed back to the net and didn’t read the play very well which inadvertently led to Cam Talbot being screened on the ensuing shot. Tough break for Nurse, but I think he’ll stay in camp right up until the regular season opens. The other thing I REALLY like about Nurse, is his ability to realize when there isn’t an outlet pass to be made. He has the wheels to skate the puck into the offensive zone himself, and then get back to the blue line effectively. This is something the Oilers have been sorely lacking.
-Cam Talbot looked strong through the 1st. The 2nd Jets goal he let in was incredibly weak, however. Hopefully he gets that out of his system before the regular season starts
-I really liked Oscar Klefbom’s game. It’s only preseason, but he was focused and on the right side of the puck most of the night. He did have one bad turnover in the 2nd period, but it doesn’t appear that his new contract has gone to his head, and that is very good news for the Oilers and their fans. Hopefully he can maintain his solid play through the year.
-Griffin Reinhart was fantastic. Although he was quiet, he was making high percentage plays all evening. Very calm under pressure. He looked like the same defenseman I remember with the Oil Kings. I am cautiously optimistic with Griffin, and enjoying the battle for a roster spot that has developed between him and Darnell Nurse.
-MATT HENDRICKS. MATT HENDRICKS! MATT FREAKING HENDRICKS!!! I just adore this guy. He played his personal brand of hard nosed hockey and seems to be the same reliable warhorse he was last year. He battled all night, drew penalties, and scored an amazing (although somewhat comical) penalty shot goal. Old reliable.
-Jordan Eberle seems to find his regular season form with ease. He was dangerous tonight, and looked like the sniper with the silky smooth mits we all know and love. Eberle’s consistancy on the score sheet will continue into the regular season barring any injury issues *knocks on wood*.
-Nuge had a somewhat quiet game despite notching 2 assists. But for him, that’s not such a bad thing. He seems to be continuing his excellent 2-way play.
-Poor Nail Yakupov! He failed to find the net off a glorious chance from Leon Draisaitl during 3 on 3. I really liked his play throughout the entire game though. People who say he doesn’t backcheck just don’t understand hockey or watch him enough. Speaking of Draisaitl, he was the best player on his line (again). If he keeps it up, he’s a lock to make the team.
-Braden Christoffer was all over the ice. This kid is the feel good story of the preseason. I’m not sure there is room for him to start the year, but he’s earned himself a place in the depth chart and will bolster the Condors if he can continue his play.
-One of the things I really enjoyed tonight, was just how vocal and engaged Todd McLellan was. He was in constant communication with the players on the bench, and went through the process as if he was in a playoff game. What a welcome change!
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