Jesse Schultz was signed to a free agent rookie contract this summer by the Vancouver Canucks. Out of training camp he was assigned to the ECHL Columbia Inferno, where he has played 46 games. The 21-year-old has 24 goals and 21 assists in those games, good for a spot on the Top 20 rookie scorers list, which has come despite missing a large chunk of games with a knee injury. Schultz also played two games with the AHL Manitoba Moose, in which he had one assist.
The 6’0” 192-pound right winger played his junior hockey in the WHL for three teams, most recently the Kelowna Rockets.
Hockey’s Future spoke to Schultz following the Inferno’s 5-0 loss to the Gwinnett Gladiators on Sunday.
HF: How do you think your season is going so far personally?
JS: I think it’s been alright. It’s been up and down. It took me a while to get used to the pro style of hockey. After Christmas I started playing better. But the injury after Christmas kind of slowed me down a bit. I missed about 20 games, about a month. After that I feel I played my best hockey of the year and I’m working on being more consistent and improving every day.
HF: What exactly happened with your injury?
JS: Torn MCL. It happened on a road trip to Louisiana after Christmas. I missed about four weeks.
HF: What would you say has been the biggest adjustment for you, coming from junior to this league?
JS: I think it’s just the bigger players, stronger players. You’re playing against older players than in junior. You don’t find a lot of 20-year-olds in this league. I wouldn’t say the speed is much quicker, I’d say it’s about the same as junior. It’s the bigger stronger guys. Me being a smaller player, I have to battle through that and adjust to it.
HF: You played up in the AHL for a few games too.
JS: Yeah, I was up for five games, played in two. I guess I just got my feet wet a little bit, gave me a taste of what it was like. You always want to move up year after year, and hopefully I can make the jump up there next year.
HF: How did you feel you did in those two games that you played?
JS: I thought I played pretty well. I had an assist in the first game and obviously I was a little nervous since it was my first AHL game, but after the first period I kind of got more comfortable and kind of started to play my game. In the second game I didn’t play as much, but all around I think it went alright.
HF: Do you think you’ll have to make any particular adjustments in your game to stay up there?
JS: I’m not sure what my role would be up there next year if I play there. I think defensively I have to get better in my own end. I’ve come up known as an offensive player, but to make the final jump to the NHL you have to be an all-around player. I have to work on that, becoming better in my own end.
HF: Is that why you think you were sent here, to work on defense, or did Vancouver tell you what in particular they wanted you to work on?
JS: They didn’t really say. They did mention I need to get stronger and stuff like that, but they never really said why they sent me here. I guess it’s just a numbers thing with too many players up in Manitoba and me being a younger guy and needing to put me down here to get me ready for the pro style game.
HF: How did Vancouver camp go for you this year?
JS: It was a good camp. It was my second NHL camp. I would have liked to have had more success there, but unfortunately it didn’t go that way. I’d like to show them what I can do more, but hopefully next year, if there is a training camp and a season, I can show them more of what kind of player I am.
HF: You talked a little bit about what you need to work on, but what would you say are your priorities on what to improve on?
JS: I would just say defensively. I haven’t been as good as I would like in my own end. Being an offensive player I’m always looking to create stuff with the puck, but you have to be aware of your own end and down here you try to work on that so you’re more prepared when you move up.
HF: You play on the power play, do you ever play penalty kill?
JS: This year I haven’t. I did last year, in my last year of junior. But I’m comfortable with that, there are certain players for certain situations and I guess I just don’t fit that. We have good penalty killers here that do a good job.
HF: If you were going to describe yourself, would you say you’re a goal scorer?
JS: Yeah, that’s a good way to describe me I guess. Just offensive-minded. Coming up through junior I did score a few goals, but right now you have to have all aspects to your game, you can’t just be one-dimensional. You can’t just be a goal scorer or you’re not going to go very far.
HF: I noticed that your shooting percentage is really high, 24 percent, best among rookies in the league. Did you realize that?
JS: I did see it. I don’t look at it too much, I do see it now and then. I guess it’s good, but my shot (totals) are pretty low and when your shooting percentage is up your shots are going to be low. I’d like to get them up more, I’d like to shoot the puck more. I’m holding onto it too long sometimes. The best scoring chances is sometimes just a shot from anywhere and Coach White has been trying to get me to shoot more and I’ve been trying to work on that.
HF: Often when people’s shooting percentage is high it means they’ve been a little lucky lately, would you say that’s the case at all?
JS: Yeah I guess, I don’t know. I’d like to be more lucky. I haven’t felt a lot of luck this year. I’ve been a streaky scorer in the past and I try to get out of that and be more consistent. I could use some luck. I haven’t put up a lot of points this year. Hopefully when I get my chances I’m just going to put them in the net.
HF: You’re also third in plus/minus among rookies (+22). Is that something you take pride in?
JS: Yeah I guess. It’s not a stat that’s looked at a lot. It is important, means that you’re on for more goals for than against. You don’t really want to be a minus player, so I guess it’s good that I’m plus. Just working on defense and trying to be better defensively, being a plus player is definitely a good thing.
HF: What else do you feel like you’re doing well?
JS: Some of my strengths are using my speed and trying to create stuff offensively. I’ve always been a good skater and that’s one of my better traits. I always try to work on that and try to do that in a game. I think that’s what I’ve been doing the best.
HF: Tonight you were playing with Tim Smith and Terry Harrison. Are they your usual linemates?
JS: Yeah, the lines tend to get switched up a lot. We’ve got a couple injuries right now so you have to shuffle around. Ever since I’ve been back from my injury and Terry’s been back from his, us three have been together a lot.
HF: How do you think you guys work together?
JS: I think we do pretty well. Obviously when you throw a line together and you haven’t played together ever, it takes a little bit of an adjustment period. I think we went through that earlier. I think we compliment each other well. Terry’s a fast player and gets in good on the forecheck and creates room for me and Tim. Obviously you can see from Tim’s stats that he puts up a lot of points and he likes playing in the offensive end as much as I do. I think the three of us work well together.
HF: How would your teammates describe you personally?
JS: Kind of a down to earth person, laid back. There’s the odd time I’ll get kind of riled up on the ice, and show a little too much emotion, but I’m pretty easy going.
HF: What are your goals for next year?
JS: To be honest, I don’t really know what’s going to happen with the lockout and stuff looming. It’s hard to say. Obviously if there is a training camp I have to go in there and play my best and show them that I’ve improved from the year before, and show them I’m making strides. Obviously my next goal would be to make the next step to Manitoba and hopefully become a key factor in them getting better as a team, and getting better as a player.