Is Justin Schultz the best prospect in the NHL?

Jonathan Willis
December 15 2012 11:26AM

According to former Calgary Flames general manager Craig Button, the answer is “yes.”

On Friday, Button put out a list of the players he sees as the 30 best drafted prospects in the NHL. The Oilers had three players on the list – Schultz in the top spot, Nail Yakupov at number five, and Oscar Klefbom at number 18.

The fact is that there is a case for Schultz as the best prospect in the league. The 22-year old defenceman is leading the entire AHL in scoring – in a lockout year, no less – as a rookie professional. His 35 points this season are three more than second-place Jordan Eberle, and eight more than the next-nearest skater (diminutive Columbus prospect Cam Atkinson).

Schultz entered this season with high expectations after being the subject of an off-season recruiting war after he opted not to sign with the Anaheim Ducks, the team that drafted him. However high those expectations were, he’s blown them out of the water. Oklahoma coach Todd Nelson calls him the best player in the AHL – and Nelson has Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall skating for him.

Schultz is the only AHL’er in the top-five – likely in no small part because other top AHL’ers are already bona fide NHL players. The KHL, however has three prospects in Button’s upper echelon:

  • Second: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington. The 26th overall pick in 2010, Kuzentsov has evolved into a near point-per-game player in the KHL. Kuznetsov as brilliant for Russia at last year’s World Juniors, managing six goals and 13 points in seven games. He can do it all offensively.
  • Third: Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis. Another 2010 first round pick (16th overall), Tarasenko just turned 21 and has eclipsed the point-per-game mark in the KHL through 23 contests so far. Unlike Kuznetsov, Tarasenko has made it clear he plans to make the jump to the NHL immediately.
  • Fifth: Nail Yakupov, Edmonton. It’s hard for me to look at Yakupov’s KHL performance – both in terms of numbers and from having watched a bunch of games – and see him ranked below Tarasenko and Kuznetsov. Yakupov’s commitment to North America – including the fact that he played two years in the OHL in the lead-up to getting drafted – is clear, and he’s putting in a highly comparable KHL performance to the other two despite having just turned 19.

Morgan Rielly, a near point-per-game defenceman with Moose Jaw and the fifth overall pick last year, rounds out the list.

For my money, the top spot on the list is a toss-up between Yakupov and Justin Schultz. Schultz is older, and his results almost defy belief in an extremely tough AHL. In terms of pure offence, Yakupov stacks up fairly against any of the Oilers young guns; he might already be the best shooter in the system (though Jordan Eberle will contest that).

Other Highlights

Brett Ritchie is an interesting choice for the 10th spot. A 2010 draft pick with a 6’4” frame, the winger’s numbers have never been terribly impressive until this year. In 32 OHL games he has scored 27 goals and 50 points.

Dougie Hamilton at 12 is a tough one to take. The OHL’s best defenceman last year, Hamilton isn’t particularly mean but he’s good at everything else; I’m guessing he suffers here because of comparisons to Jay Bouwmeester. He’s a brilliant prospect, and a guy I’d take earlier.

Malcolm Subban goes from being the 24th best prospect (according to NHL scouts) in the 2012 Draft to the 15th spot on Button’s list. I like Subban a lot, and clearly Button does too but I’m leery about putting that kind of value on any young goaltender.

Rielly and Yakupov both get spots in the top-five on Button’s list, and Alex Galchenyuk just falls shot, but the rest of 2012’s top-five is conspicuous by their lack of impact. Ryan Murray is ranked a lowly 26th (I’m assuming injury has something to do with this) and Griffin Reinhart is omitted entirely.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#101 DSF
December 16 2012, 06:15PM
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Time Travelling Sean wrote:

Centers are important, but they're not king to wingers. Would you rather have Evander Kane or Wellwood? Alex Steen or Backes? Clutterbuck or Broadziak?

Stanley Cup teams don't just have center depth, they have depth all around.

We have good winger depth and good defensive depth, and we have an elite 1st line center. You don't need two of them to be successful, just look at Detroit.

It's not optimal, but it isn't the end of our hopes, because we took a better player in Yak, then Gally. Also junior numbers are a good indicator but Niederreiter put up good points in junior as well.

Yeah, those Datsyuk and Zetterburg guys are garbage.

Good grief.

Stanley Cup winning teams ALL (the 2006 Canes excepted) have great centre depth.

Every hear of Crosby and Malkin and formerly Staal.

How about Kopitar, Richards, Carter and Stoll?

How about Bergeron and Krecji?

How about Toews, Sharp and Bolland?

You look up the rest.

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#102 Time Travelling Sean
December 16 2012, 07:00PM
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Zetterberg is a winger, whenever I watch the Red Wings play, which was my point. They have Datsyuk and then Franzen/Helm.

Centers are important, but would Chicago have won without Kane?

Stanley Cup winning teams ALL have great depth all around.

If Seguin scores 40 goals and gets 90 points is he better, or makes more of an impact, than if Hall does the exact same?

Look at Patty Kane, or St.Louis. They hold onto, and move the puck, like a center.

Centers are important, but how are they more important than wingers? All those teams that won the SC, maybe besides the Pens, had great wingers, and great defencemen to.

Explain to me what a center can do that a winger can't, or hasn't done, besides win face-offs.

L.A has great center depth, but if Quick didn't win the Conn Smythe, Brown, who's a winger, would have.

New Jersey got to the Cup Finals on the back of Kovie and Parise, two wingers.

Maybe if Kovie and Parise were centers they would have won the cup?

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#103 DSF
December 16 2012, 07:36PM
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Time Travelling Sean wrote:

Zetterberg is a winger, whenever I watch the Red Wings play, which was my point. They have Datsyuk and then Franzen/Helm.

Centers are important, but would Chicago have won without Kane?

Stanley Cup winning teams ALL have great depth all around.

If Seguin scores 40 goals and gets 90 points is he better, or makes more of an impact, than if Hall does the exact same?

Look at Patty Kane, or St.Louis. They hold onto, and move the puck, like a center.

Centers are important, but how are they more important than wingers? All those teams that won the SC, maybe besides the Pens, had great wingers, and great defencemen to.

Explain to me what a center can do that a winger can't, or hasn't done, besides win face-offs.

L.A has great center depth, but if Quick didn't win the Conn Smythe, Brown, who's a winger, would have.

New Jersey got to the Cup Finals on the back of Kovie and Parise, two wingers.

Maybe if Kovie and Parise were centers they would have won the cup?

Zetterburg plays second line centre most of the time.

Of course you also need good wingers to win but you CAN'T win without great centres.

Parise scored 15 points in the playoffs.

Zajac scored 14 and Henrique scored 13.

You could argue they Devils didn't win the cup because their centres weren't dominant.

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#104 GVBlackhawk
December 16 2012, 08:18PM
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Walter Sobchak wrote:

http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php?pid=130582

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Galchenyuk

http://www.hockeysfuture.com/prospects/alex_galchenyuk/

http://canadiens.nhl.com/club/player.htm?id=8476851

http://www.eliteprospects.com/player.php?player=74611

http://forecaster.thehockeynews.com/hockeynews/hockey/player.cgi?7220

He's not 6'0 feet tall. he's between 6'1 and 6'2 and yes size is important.

Right. So these websites are more accurate than the 2012 draft combine, where the players' heights are actually measured. Don't think so.

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#105 GVBlackhawk
December 16 2012, 08:26PM
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Walter Sobchak wrote:

How many top flight centers have you seen traded as opposed to top flight defensemen? How many times’ on oilersnation have you seen the argument about the fact you can’t trade for these players as opposed to defensemen?

You have to draft center’s you trade for defensemen.

The Oilers depth at center IS worse than there defensive situation, that’s a reality. If a defensemen goes down we can bring in at least a couple of options, if RNH goes down like last year, well, we become a 29th place team really quickly.

Again to clarify, I am all about taking BPA, I am so glad they choose Yakupov, I would still choose Yakupov.

The argument is a solid one by DSF in the fact we have poor center depth and strength, it is a concern and a weakness, Galchenyuk will be a very good player an elite player and he could very well be close to Yakupov’s in points in the NHL which is why I said the Oilers could be ahead of the curve and accelerate the rebuild by drafting him.

The Oilers still require a center and defensemen which one will cost more to trade for?

I don't believe I follow your argument. Are you implying that it is not possible to trade for a centerman? That is ludicrous. Additionally, you are not accounting for free agency. If the Oilers get to the point where they are challenging for the Cup, they will be able to attract top flight players.

The Oilers have more than center depth issues. The defense are porous and the goaltending is questionable, too. Even if RNH stays healthy, there is a good chance that the Oilers remain a lottery team with the defense that they have. Who are the defensive options that you suggest the team can bring in if they have injuries (which are inevitable)? The defensive depth on the farm is awful.

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#106 GVBlackhawk
December 16 2012, 08:32PM
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DSF wrote:

You know teenagers keep growing, right?

If he's 6'2" and 205 at the age of 18, it's not inconceivable he could end up 6'4" 220.

That's plenty big.

You know that most teenage boys stop growing in height by age 17 right? It is the exception, not the norm, that boys continue to grow past age 18. It is conceivable that he could end up 7 feet tall, but in reality, he will likely end up at his current height: 6 feet, 0.5 inches.

That is a good size but not gigantic.

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#107 OilersBrass
December 16 2012, 08:34PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

RE: Galchenyuk vs. Yakupov

I like Galchenyuk a lot, but let's try and remember that his numbers this year are just *narrowly* better than Yakupov's last year and not as good as Yakupov's pre-injury numbers last year.

Yakupov's the better player. Not a knock on Galchenyuk - at all - but that's before we even get into the fact that he played all of *8* OHL games last year.

Also Jonathon, Galchenyuk centred Yakupov on the stings. It was his play making ability that helped Yakupov score a lot of those goals.

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#108 GVBlackhawk
December 16 2012, 08:43PM
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DSF wrote:

Yeah, those Datsyuk and Zetterburg guys are garbage.

Good grief.

Stanley Cup winning teams ALL (the 2006 Canes excepted) have great centre depth.

Every hear of Crosby and Malkin and formerly Staal.

How about Kopitar, Richards, Carter and Stoll?

How about Bergeron and Krecji?

How about Toews, Sharp and Bolland?

You look up the rest.

What those teams all had was solid defensive systems and great goaltending.

Quick and Doughty were the best 2 Kings last year.

Tim Thomas was unstoppable for the Bruins Cup.

Keith, Seabrook and Niemi were key to the Blackhawks Cup. Toews was the top forward.

Since 2000, 8 of the 13 Conn Smythe winners were goalies or defensemen.

And DSF...it's Zetterberg. Good grief.

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#109 nuge2nail
December 16 2012, 09:41PM
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Oiler Domination To Follow

Shouldnt we be talking about how good Schultz is and how lucky we are to have him, instead of how much of a mistake the Yakupov draft pick is going to be?

Some people need to keep their negative thoughts to themselves, especially when its based on nothing but personal opinions.

History shows you should not draft for position but draft the best player available - and going into the draft there was no debate between the two.

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#110 Oilertown
December 16 2012, 10:36PM
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DSF wrote:

Based on nothing.

Don't believe I was speaking to you DSF. Just like your opinions are based on crap.

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#111 Oilertown
December 16 2012, 10:56PM
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nuge2nail wrote:

Oiler Domination To Follow

Shouldnt we be talking about how good Schultz is and how lucky we are to have him, instead of how much of a mistake the Yakupov draft pick is going to be?

Some people need to keep their negative thoughts to themselves, especially when its based on nothing but personal opinions.

History shows you should not draft for position but draft the best player available - and going into the draft there was no debate between the two.

Agreed, agreed, agreed, I really wish there was some way we could have DSF banned from these OILERS sites then we could talk about how great the Oil are going to be. Instead of endlessly arguing with him and his falseness. The only reason he comes here and to Lowetides site is to try and piss people off because he is jealous of what the team is building. It's quite sad actually that he has nothing better to do with his life.

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#112 EHH Team
December 16 2012, 11:17PM
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What is "dsf" short for anyway? Could it be "da stoopid fella"?

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#113 Walter Sobchak
December 16 2012, 11:55PM
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GVBlackhawk wrote:

Right. So these websites are more accurate than the 2012 draft combine, where the players' heights are actually measured. Don't think so.

The Montreal Canadiens have him listed on there own site as 6'1 205 lbs, that's why I mentioned the 6'1 to 6'2 for the fluctuation, I'm going to go with the averages I posted, not that one inch is a huge deal, I also want to add that while your combine results are probably accurate, the heights I posted are not from some hockey forum, these are legit sites.

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#114 Walter Sobchak
December 17 2012, 12:12AM
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nuge2nail wrote:

Oiler Domination To Follow

Shouldnt we be talking about how good Schultz is and how lucky we are to have him, instead of how much of a mistake the Yakupov draft pick is going to be?

Some people need to keep their negative thoughts to themselves, especially when its based on nothing but personal opinions.

History shows you should not draft for position but draft the best player available - and going into the draft there was no debate between the two.

Nobody said Yakupov was a bad choice, nobody has said Yakupov is a mistake, nobody is questioning who the BPA was.

We are simply saying that the Oilers need another quality center and Galchenyuk is an elite player and the Oilers could use him as much as much as Yakupov.

You tell me were the negativity Is?

That as a fan of the Oilers I can't express that I appreciate the skills of both these players?

Also, you just expressed a negative personal opinion, so maybe you should take your own advise!

P.S maybe read what as been talked about before you decide to comment what you think has been debated,

For the future this site is for people to write about there personnel opinions on matters relating to all things Oilers and hockey.

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#115 Walter Sobchak
December 17 2012, 12:28AM
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GVBlackhawk wrote:

I don't believe I follow your argument. Are you implying that it is not possible to trade for a centerman? That is ludicrous. Additionally, you are not accounting for free agency. If the Oilers get to the point where they are challenging for the Cup, they will be able to attract top flight players.

The Oilers have more than center depth issues. The defense are porous and the goaltending is questionable, too. Even if RNH stays healthy, there is a good chance that the Oilers remain a lottery team with the defense that they have. Who are the defensive options that you suggest the team can bring in if they have injuries (which are inevitable)? The defensive depth on the farm is awful.

Lets clear one thing up, I'm not arguing, I'm debating the possibility that the Oilers could use Galchenyuk more then they could Yakupov, that's it.

I never implied that trading for a 1st line center is not possible, I suggested and has been layed out on this web site time and time again that the price you pay for that center is massive, the Oilers don't have the chips to ay on the table.

I have accounted for free agency, which of the kids do you want to give up for the price of your center? The Oilers have cap issues now, and they can't go the UFA route.

This whole rebuild has been about organically growing our players not whale hunting.

As for your last paragraph I am in total agreement with you, I to feel they are still a lottery team, The D is an issue as is the supporting players have to be better.

I stand by my opinion on center depth,I just think it's harder to obtain, and is a bigger issue then defence at this point. Like I said before, RNH goes down, your defacto # 1 center is Horcoff, If a D-man goes down you can move players in and out on defence, you still have options and short term solutions, not so much with center.

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#116 Clyde Frog
December 17 2012, 08:57AM
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GVBlackhawk wrote:

Yes, especially in their draft year. Yakupov really benefited from Galchenyuk's play-making ability then.

Ummm no, Galchenyuk was injured and barely played... Yak's numbers are all Yak.

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#117 GVBlackhawk
December 17 2012, 09:37AM
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Clyde Frog wrote:

Ummm no, Galchenyuk was injured and barely played... Yak's numbers are all Yak.

Don't make me go all 'Wikipedia: sarcasm' on you Clyde! Reserve your comment for Logan83.

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#119 Clyde Frog
December 17 2012, 06:58PM
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GVBlackhawk wrote:

Don't make me go all 'Wikipedia: sarcasm' on you Clyde! Reserve your comment for Logan83.

Heh misquote!

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#120 nuge2nail
December 17 2012, 11:39PM
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Walter Sobchak wrote:

Nobody said Yakupov was a bad choice, nobody has said Yakupov is a mistake, nobody is questioning who the BPA was.

We are simply saying that the Oilers need another quality center and Galchenyuk is an elite player and the Oilers could use him as much as much as Yakupov.

You tell me were the negativity Is?

That as a fan of the Oilers I can't express that I appreciate the skills of both these players?

Also, you just expressed a negative personal opinion, so maybe you should take your own advise!

P.S maybe read what as been talked about before you decide to comment what you think has been debated,

For the future this site is for people to write about there personnel opinions on matters relating to all things Oilers and hockey.

Oiler Domination To Follow

Of course we can use Galchenyuk just as much as we can use Yakupov. We could also use Murray and Reily as much as we can Schultz. We could also use Patrik Roy in his prime, but sadly the NHL doesnt reward unlimited first round picks for finishing last, and time travel doesnt exist yet.

Seems to me debating between Yakupov and Galch is pointless considering neither has played an NHL game yet.

Talk about Schultz epic AHL start, how Nelson says hes the best player on his team(same team with Ebs, Halls and Nuge) and how amazing he is going to look in an Oilers Jersey for the next decade.

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