Who Is Justin Schultz
For those who haven't kept up with the hype on Justin Schultz hype, here's an overview on who he is.
A defenseman drafted in the second round in 2008 by the Anaheim Ducks, Justin Schultz has played the last 4 years with the University of Wisconsin. In his last two seasons there, he has 91 points in 78 games. Schultz is 6'2", and has reportedly been putting on some muscle in an attempt to improve his defensive game to go along with these offensive numbers. My "The Hockey News: Futurewatch" magazine ranks Schultz at 21 in their "Top 75 Prospects." For some perspective, the magazine lists Zibanejad at 5, Lehner at 20, Stone at 45, Silfverberg at 67 and Noesen at 72. Between our youth movement, and Murray's love of all Puck Moving Defenseman, chances are Murray could be making a pitch for this blue-chip prospect.
So, why is this young, promising prospect a UFA? Well, he's finishing his 4th year at College now, and in spite of the Ducks' best efforts, he still doesn't have a contract with Anaheim. Under the rules of the CBA, if he still has no contract on July 1st, he's a UFA. He's not holding out for money, as teams will still only be allowed to give him an entry level contract. He's holding out for the ability to be able to decide for himself where he plays.
Why might he decide to come to Ottawa
Brian Murray has been able to get some guys coming out of College before. Last year, with many teams making a push for Da Costa, Murray was able to get him by boasting room for him to hit the NHL right away, and a chance to be part of a young core that can mature together. The same pitch can be made for Schultz. He's said by many to be an NHL ready prospect, and Ottawa has space for him. With Kuba and Gilroy likely leaving to free agency, and Carkner, even if re-signed, likely to remain a 7th defenseman, the opportunity is there for a strong defensive prospect to make the big league. We're a team that's on the upswing, but that is also already competitive. A strong case could be made that he has the chance to get in on the ground floor with a group that could be a contender reasonably soon.
Who else is going after him
If reports are to be believed, there are 29 other teams hoping to get this kid. Edmonton can make a very similar pitch to ours, minus the idea that he could be on a playoff team already. Rumours are that he'd like to be closer to his western Canada roots.
Also in on the rumours, partially because they're in on all rumours, are the Maple Leafs. Burke loves to go after college kids, and some Leaf-friendly publications are speculating that he isn't signing because he wants to play with his former defensive partner at Wisconsin. Who is that, you ask? Jake Gardiner. (That said, the Toronto media pushes the story of every UFA in league history that they've always wanted to be a Leaf, so we have to take that with a grain of salt.) One thing that could stand in the way for Toronto is all the arbitrary rules Brian Burke gives himself. I know he won't do RFA offer sheets, so how does he feel about stealing another organization's top prospects? Especially if that organization is his favourite trading partner?
Also possible is that Schultz won't want to get in on a rebuilding team, but is hoping to send himself to a genuine contender. The cup is, after all, the prize everyone wants. With Linstrom rumoured to be retiring soon, there could be an opening in Detroit, for one. While the teams at the top of the league may have harder lineups to crack, the rewards if you get in could be far greater than just being the guy who got the Oilers finally into the playoffs.
I think Schultz would look great in a Senators uniform, and fully expect Brian Murray to make a push. That said, this is one free agent that is going to have no shortage of offers, and highly doubt we're going to be his first choice.