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Potential College Free Agent Justin Schultz Could Be A Perfect Option For The Flyers Defense

It has been clear for sometime now that the Philadelphia Flyers need to address their defense corps prior to the beginning of the 2012-13 season. With that in mind, questions have swirled about pending free agent Matt Carle and the possibilities of acquiring one of the Nashville Predators’ superstar defensemen Shea Weber or Ryan Suter.

However, there is one ‘superstar’ option that hasn’t yet been linked to the Flyers but could become a possibility in the near future.

That option is 21-year old Wisconsin Badgers defenseman, Justin Schultz.

Schultz is a six-foot-two,185-pound, right-handed defenseman who has been the highest scoring d-man in the NCAA in the past two consecutive seasons. He is also a two-time WCHA Defensive Player of the Year, two-time Hobey Baker Award finalist and is largely considered one of the best – if not the best – defensive prospect in all of hockey.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie even considers Schultz the third best potential free agent this summer.

The reason that the word ‘potential’ is in play is because Schultz at the time of this writing is still the property of the Anaheim Ducks. Drafted in 2008 with the 43rd overall pick, the Ducks have owned Schultz’s rights while he has opted to play college hockey in Wisconsin. But if the Ducks are unable to come to terms on a contract with Schultz by June 1, he will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. As of Monday afternoon, the Ducks are still hopeful that the can lock down Schultz.

Here is a quote from Anaheim’s general manager Bob Murray courtesy of the Orange County Register:

“Last week, I had a good chat with him,” Murray said. “I think Justin has got his exams and he’ll figure out what he wants to do after he gets his schoolwork done. He wanted to concentrate on school and I think he gets done for the year sometime next week. We expect to know something on that in the next little while.”

Of course this has left many skeptical of the situation.

Per legislation in the current collective bargaining agreement, Schultz had the option of signing with the Ducks and playing out the final games of the 2011-12 season in order to burn off a year on his entry-level contract so that he could become a restricted free agent in 2013. Obviously, this would allow him to make more money because he could negotiate beyond his entry-level contract after only one full season rather than the standard two.

However, Schultz opted not to do that in order to finish out his Junior season with the Badgers. As was stated above, he also has the option of waiting until June 1 to negotiate with whomever he wants because of a clause in the CBA that states that college players who fail to sign with the team that drafted them four-years removed from their draft class are eligible to become an unrestricted free agent.

He would still have to sign a two-year entry-level contract but the benefit would be that he would be able to pick the team he would be playing for. Many believe this is what he plans to do.

To simplify, if Schultz was going to sign with the Ducks he would have done so by now.

Of course, this would require him to forego his final year of eligibility at Wisconsin, something which Schultz has yet to address. According to Puck Prospectus though, Schultz has passed the college game by and is ready to make the jump to the NHL:

“Schultz looks filthy good every shift he takes for Wisconsin and he clearly doesn't belong in college anymore. His ability to make plays at both ends and control the game is pretty high end.”

With the June 1 deadline creeping ever closer, Schultz’s name has been a hot-button topic with many of the preeminent hockey insiders and analysts. The general consensus is that if he decides to hit unrestricted waters, Schultz will command interest from every team in the NHL.

In terms of the Philadelphia Flyers, no body with any kind of insider knowledge has ever linked Schultz to the team. However, there is no consensus as to where Schultz could potentially wind up.

This means that it’s probably any body’s game if he gets to June 1.

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren has been extremely active in the college free agent market and given the Flyers propensity for big name acquisitions, it’s more than likely that the team would pursue Schultz if he became available.

They also have the option of selling him the benefits of a contending team who have proven that they will spend money to win, have a young group where any body can earn a prominent role and have experience with college free agents playing their first year out of school (see Matt Read).

Not to mention that Schultz’s $925,000 ELC would bring in a talented player and allow the club to continue to bolster the defense this summer.

While there are plenty of variables still in play, it can’t hurt to start asking questions about the possibility of pursuing this prospect.

Schultz would in no way be a one-stop fix-all for the Flyers defense but he would be a piece that fits into the team’s current philosophy centered around young, fast players.

Considering how the Flyers consistently toe the line with the salary cap, a young, affordable prospect with an endless amount of upside like Schultz has to be fairly enticing. 

 

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