NHL Free Agency: Could Justin Schultz Be a Diamond in the Rough?

Matt WisemanCorrespondent IIIMarch 24, 2012

DETROIT - APRIL 08:  Scott Gudmandson #1 of the Wisconsin Badgers stops a shot as Justin Schultz #6 stands by in the first period against the RIT Tigers on April 8, 2010 during the semifinals of the 2010 NCAA Frozen Four at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Let's be honest, other than Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, the NHL's upcoming free-agent class isn't very intriguing. But a prospect by the name of Justin Schultz may add a bit of spice for teams and fans come July 1.

On TSN's latest edition of "Insider Trading," hockey analyst Bob McKenzie speculated that Schultz, who was selected 43rd overall by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, has opted to become a UFA and explore his options.

McKenzie said:

Suter and Parise are unquestionably the top-two unrestricted free agents. I'm going out and suggesting very strongly that the third-biggest name in free agency this year will be Anaheim's second-round pick Justin Schultz.

He recently concluded his season with the University of Wisconsin and has the option to sign with the Ducks right now if he so chooses or go to unrestricted free agency on July 1, and I'm saying that because he has not signed with the Ducks at this point in time that there is every indication that Schultz is going to go to unrestricted free agency.

Think of Toronto Maple Leafs' rookie standout Jake Gardiner for a comparison. Similarly to Gardiner, Schultz plays with a high degree of hockey sense and has a puck-rushing, offensive flair to his game.

Unlike Gardiner, however, Schultz has the size to play a physical brand of effective, shut-down defense in his own end of the rink.

The 22-year-old native of West Kelowna, British Columbia, was recently named a finalist for the prestigious Hobey Baker Memorial Award, which is an honor given out annually to the top collegiate hockey player in the U.S.

He was also named the 2012 WCHA Defensive Player of the Year and a member of the 2012 All-WCHA First Team. It is the second year in a row that Schultz has been given all three honors.

As assistant captain this season, he tallied 16 goals, 28 assists and was plus-11 in just 37 games. It marked his third and final year with the UW Badgers.

Equally impressive are the facts that Schultz became the first UW defenseman in history to lead his team in goal scoring this season and finished his collegiate career with 40 goals and 73 assists, which is good enough to join Brian Rafalski as only the second Badger to surpass the 100-point career mark.

If you're not convinced yet, just take a quick look at this highlight reel and you'll realize that there will be no shortage of suitors for Schultz if he reaches free agency on July 1.

So if McKenzie is right (and he usually is), the loss of Schultz to unrestricted free agency will be a huge blow to Anaheim.

But it will also mean a huge opportunity for one of the many NHL clubs that need help on the back end—if this sounds like your team, start getting excited!


on Twitter for up-to-date NHL news and analysis.