Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Justin Schultz started the 2018-19 season off strongly with four assists in his first four games, but then… well this happened:
Ouch. Schultz was dumped by Montreal Canadiens forward Tomas Plekanec this past weekend and fell awkwardly on his leg. The result? He’ll be out at least four months with a broken leg. Double ouch.
With Shultz out long term, blue liner Jamie Oleksiak has drawn into the team’s lineup, but he can’t be a long term solution can he? The Penguins are currently icing a defense corps consisting of Brian Dumoulin, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Oleksiak, Jack Johnson and rookie Juuso Riikola. That’s hardly a group that’s going to strike fear into the heart’s of opponents.
With Schultz out long term, NHL insider Elliotte Friedman speculates that Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford could be active on the trade market. Check out this statement from Friedman in his latest 31 Thoughts column for Sportsnet:
Justin Schultz is expected to return this season, but remember that Penguins GM Jim Rutherford likes to make his moves early. Not sure how confident they are in Olli Maatta, so he’s probably in the defenceman market anyway.
Of course, whether or not the Penguins actually make a move depends on who’s available on the trade market. Friedman himself has speculated that Vancouver Canucks defensemen Alex Edler and Chris Tanev could be available, but with the way the Canucks are playing right now that seems unlikely. St. Louis Blues defensemen Jay Bouwmeester is another potential rental option, but the Blues are expected to be in the Playoff mix come the trade deadline. Ditto for Dallas Stars defensemen Marc Methot. With so few players available, the Penguins may have no choice but to be patient and await Schultz’s return.
The 28 year old Schultz took a step back in terms of his production last season, following an incredible 51 point campaign in 2016-17. In Letang's absence due to injury, Schultz stepped into the #1 defenseman role for the Penguins during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and was absolutely dominant, scoring 13 points in 21 games. In 63 regular season games in 2017-18, Schultz managed just 27 points, but again, his play early this season seemed to indicate that he was back to his old self. Hopefully for the Penguins' sake he can light it up when he returns in the New Year.