One wouldn’t think that someone with a 6’6, 212lb stature would be capable of being a gentle giant.
But despite setting a career high in penalty minutes in the Western Hockey League this season, Calgary Hitmen defenseman Jeff Schultz seems to puts that myth to rest.
Although he’ll never be mistaken for a bone-crushing bruiser, Schultz has developed a new attitude which has enabled him to take his game to another level.
Schultz is very relaxed right now, and the Washington Capitals prospect is benefiting from it.
“I just go out each game and play like I’m having fun out there,” said Schultz. “I’m not forcing plays or trying to go out there and impress anybody.”
That’s not to confuse carefree with careless, however.
After scoring 11 goals and recording 35 points in his draft season, Schultz struggled to live up to the expectations placed on him in the 2004-05 season, after being selected in the first round, 27th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
Following his 11-goal campaign with just two more the following year, Schultz saw not only his goal total drop by nine, but his point total as well. More alarming, though, was the fact that Schultz’s plus/minus rating dropped from a +28 to a -7, despite playing on what was projected to be a top team in the Canadian Hockey League.
This season, Schultz has already matched his career high in points with 35. His plus/minus has also rebounded to a stable +15, second only to undrafted defenseman Dylan Yeo’s +19.
Perhaps more important than his offensive numbers is the fact that Schultz, paired with Carolina Hurricanes prospect Brett Carson, is succeeding in light of the fact that he’s facing the league’s top offensive forwards night in and night out.
It’s a task Schultz adores.
“I like having that pressure put on us,” admitted Schultz, who is also on the Hitmen’s top penalty-killing unit. It shows the character we have to be able to shut down the top lines.”
Character is something both Schultz and Carson do have an abundance of. While Carson wears the captain’s C in Calgary, Schultz was named at the beginning of the year as an alternate.
He leads while anchoring both special teams and logging upwards of 30 minutes a night.
“I might not be a real vocal guy in the dressing room, but I try to show leadership on the ice and work hard in practice and hopefully it carries over into games,” said Schultz.
Despite both the added on-ice and off-ice responsibilities for the hulking blueliner, Schultz says that he’s letting everything take care of itself.
“I think I’m not putting that pressure on myself out there,” admitted Schultz, who was invited to Team Canada’s Junior Selection Camp roster in December.
Perhaps Schultz, who turned 20 on Feb. 25, is able to play without constant pressure because he signed with the Capitals on August 31st, after a strong showing in camp.
In fact, it was Schultz who is assured that signing the contract has done wonders for his development.
“It’s nice not to have that pressure put on myself,” said Schultz of the signing. “I’m glad that it is over with and I attribute my success to the contract signing.”
While Schultz is able to return as an overager to the Hitmen next season, the signing, combined with his birthday, nearly eliminates any possibility of that. Schultz already has it in his mind that he won’t be back.
“My No. 1 goal is to play for Washington next year,” declared the lanky rearguard. “I had a real good camp this year and I showed them I could play there.”
Already familiar with Eric Fehr and Mike Green from the Western Hockey League, Schultz said he can’t wait to get back to Washington to join some of his other newfound friends.
“It’s great. I hung out with them at camp this year and got to know them that much more,” he said.
If Schultz continues to perform the way he has this season, the carefree blueliner could very well find himself in the blue, black and gold of the Washington Capitals next season.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.