Beyond the Ice

The Edmonton Oilers still haven’t hit the ice at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, as the negotiations to end the NHL lockout have again sputtered.

Oilers owner Daryl Katz lost the deal to build a new home arena for the team, possibly putting their long-term future in Edmonton at some risk.

These facts could have put a damper on fan spirit in Edmonton, but Oilers fans are reveling in the fact the their newest future star is flourishing in his first season as a pro for the Oilers affiliate Oklahoma City Barons.

Last summer, University of Wisconsin defenseman Justin Schultz was on the mind of every general manager in the NHL.

The 2008 second-round selection of the Anaheim Ducks remained unsigned through last summer, making him a free agent and arguably last summer’s most sought-after free-agent defenseman. Schultz wrapped up his college career with the Badgers with a 16-goal and 44-point season, totaling 113 points in 121 games at the point for the University of Wisconsin over three seasons.

Schultz had his choice of any organization this summer but chose to sign with the Oilers. Edmonton hasn’t made the postseason since the team’s 2006 Stanley Cup appearance – a six-year drought – but was able to recruit Schultz just days after taking Nail Yakupov, one of the world’s most dynamic offensive prospects, as first overall pick.

The Oilers addressed major parts of their rebuild, adding top offensive players Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, who already broke the 30-goal plateau, netting 34 last season. The team lacked prospect depth on the blue line, but filled that spot with Schultz, who was arguably the best defenseman in the world not already in the NHL.

The signing has huge implications for the Oilers, perhaps even making them dark-horse contenders this season, whenever that may begin.

Some questioned just how soon Schultz would be able to contribute at the NHL level, citing that the Oilers still may be a few years away. Though he hasn’t been tested at the NHL level yet, Schultz is already turning heads with the Barons.

Schultz was named the AHL Player of the Week, netting four goals and six points in his first six pro games, as well as being plus-six for the season. Schultz also scored two short-handed goals in a win over San Antonio on Oct. 18.

The Oilers rebuild took a massive step forward with the signing of Schultz, who may prove to be the Oilers’ best defenseman by the end of this year. Should Schultz continue to prove to be an impact performer, the Oilers could be a very dangerous team in a lockout-shortened season.

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