2004 Prospects: Q&A with Jeff Schultz

By Aaron Vickers
It’s been said that the Western
Hockey League is the breeding ground for large, physical defensemen. From Dan
Hamhuis to Dion Phaneuf,
the ‘Dub’ has
been producing a plethora of potential pounders. If
the WHL is the district for producing defensemen, then the Calgary Hitmen have cornered the market.


After watching defenseman Mike
go 34th
overall to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the Hitmen organization is sure to see much of the same from
three eligible defensemen this year, who consist of
Rogers, Brett Carson and Jeff Schultz.


All three defensemen are projected
to go as high as the first three rounds. 6’6”, 210-pounder Jeff Schultz, is
ranked highest of them all. After a preliminary ranking by Central Scouting of
fourth among Western Hockey League defensemen, one position behind Medicine Hat
Cam Barker, Schultz is
currently ranked 11th overall among North American skaters.


With already 29 points on the
season, Schultz leads his team in scoring by a defenseman, and is merely six
points out of a top ten finish among Western League defensemen. The
Calgary, AB native is close to a top ten rank in plus/minus as well,
sitting at +21 on the season.


Hockey’s Future managed to catch
up to Schultz after a 3-0 drubbing of the Kelowna
Rockets. Schultz was eager to talk about his season with the Calgary Hitmen, the playoffs, and the 2004 National
Hockey League Entry Draft.


HF: The Calgary
Hitmen selected you as a second rounder in the Bantam
Draft in 2001. What did it mean to you to be selected by your hometown team?


JS: It was a big surprise. I had gotten phone calls
from all the other teams in the league, and I didn’t receive one from
Calgary. When
they called me and drafted me, it was just a big shock. Being able to stay at
home and playing in front of my parents and family every game, it’s great.


HF: Is there any added pressure at all, playing at
home in the city you grew up in, in front of your friends and family every
other night?


JS: I think a little bit. It’s nice to be able to
show everyone I grew up playing with that I can play at this level.


HF: The Hitmen have three NHL
draft eligible defensemen this year. What does it mean to you, going into the
draft, with two other teammates on the back end with
Brett Carson and Andy Rogers, and even forward Andrew Ladd?


JS: It’s great. It just shows that all of our hard
work has paid off this year. We push each other, trying to get better out
there, and having the guys last year get drafted that high [Ryan Getzlaf, selected in the first round of the 2003 NHL Entry
Draft by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Mike Egener,
drafted in the second round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Tampa Bay
Lightning], we can see what we have to do, with the hard work they put in to
get drafted that high.


HF: Have you talked to either Getzlaf
or Egener about the whole draft process, and their


JS: Not yet. I don’t really think about [the draft]
that much. It’s still a little bit in the back of my mind. Once the day gets
closer I’ll have to sit down with them and get the do’s
and don’ts of what to do.


HF: Is there any rivalry between the three defensemen
heading into the draft to see who will be selected first?


JS: I don’t think so. When the rankings came out we
were all kind of confident with where we were and proud of each other. Everyone
has worked hard to get where they’ve been ranked and the final year-end
rankings will determine where we’ll go.


HF: Is there any comfort in knowing that you’ve got
three teammates going through the exact same thing
you are right now?


JS: Oh yeah. You know they’re nervous out there every
game, just as much as you are. It’s not really that much added pressure, but
it’s nice to know.


HF: In talking about the 2002-03 season a little bit,
being your rookie season and all, was it everything you had hoped it would be?


JS: It was great. I played the majority of the games
and I got a lot of experience out there, playing with bigger, stronger guys. I
worked hard in practice to get that playing time and it paid off.


HF: Last season you registered three points (two
goals, one assist in 50 games) and were a –6. This season, heading into
tonight’s action, had 28 points and a +20 rating through 53 games. What
adjustments have you made in your game to see such a growth from one season to
the next?


JS: Just confidence with the puck. The coaching staff has put me in situations this year that I wasn’t in
last year. Playing with a few of the elite players we have on this team have given me extra chances out there to bury the puck and
get assists.


HF: Are there any areas in your game that even you
yourself have seen in comparison to last season?


JS: I think my puck handling. I’ve got more
confidence out there with the puck. I feel I’m stronger as a skater, and more
physical all over the ice. Confidence is the big thing, though.


HF: You mentioned your puck control and physical
play. Is this how you would describe yourself as a defenseman?


JS: I consider myself a two-way
defenseman. I like to join the rush when the opportunity arises. Defense is kind of my main game. Strong
in the corners and strong in front of the net and able to make a strong outlet
pass to clear the puck from our zone.


HF: What would you say is your biggest asset out
there on the ice?


JS: I think I’m a good passer, and
I’m able to get lots of shots towards the net. I’m physical when I have to be,
but I don’t go out of my way, put myself out of
position, to make a big hit.


HF: What areas are you focusing improving on?


JS: My skating. Foot-speed and overall strength on my feet could use
work. Also, my physical presence out there when guys come hit me, let them know
next time they do it they’ll get a whack or a cross-check back.


HF: Off
the ice, what kind of a guy are you?


JS: I’m kind of shy, quiet. I like to listen to what the other guys
have to say. I’m not really kind of a leader out there, I lead more by example.


HF: What’s
something that the average
Hitmen fan doesn’t know about you?


JS: I play a 3 handicap in golf. When I was younger I had to decide
whether to go the golf-scholarship way or play hockey. Hockey was my favorite.


HF: Did
you give any consideration to taking the college route, and getting an
education as well, as opposed to playing Major Junior?


JS: Yeah, I thought about it. I thought that playing that extra year in
Junior A would be that much longer before the scouts would be able to see me
and getting to the draft.


HF: In the game you played tonight, you were able to shut-down
Rockets, the No. 2 ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League. What does a win
like that do for the hockey club, especially a win in regulation, something
that has been rare recently?


JS: The last couple of games we’ve let a couple of points slide by
giving up third period leads. Tonight we just played hard, kept it simple, and
buried our chances out there. It was nice not to have to go to overtime again.


HF: What
does this
Hitmen team have to do to go deep into the playoffs
this year?


JS: I think we’re probably one of the top teams five-on-five, but our
special teams, powerplay and penalty kill, we’ve got to get that going. That’s what will either
help you or drop you from being one of those top teams in the end.


HF: How
have the acquisitions General Manager Kelly Kisio
made at the trade deadline helped this team? Has it been something positive
that’s happened to the team, or has it affected this club’s chemistry at all?


JS: I think it’s been positive. With [Barry] Brust
in net, he’s brought us a lot of confidence back there by knowing he can move
the puck up there, and [Brett] O’Malley’s brought us a lot of speed up front.
[Aaron] Roberge is just a big guy who likes to play
physical out there. We’re a better team now than we were before the deadline.