New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather was quoted as saying during NHL draft weekend that the organization will be "fairly aggressive" in free agency, which begins July 1. The market is thin up top, with forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter the top two targets, but there is a 1A option in defenseman Justin Schultz, who hasn't even played a single shift at the NHL level.
Schultz is an offensively-gifted blueliner out of the University of Wisconsin thought to have top-four ability, even as a rookie. He was originally property of the Ducks, who snagged him in the second round of the 2008 draft. He decided to leave school after his junior season, but ultimately never inked a deal with the club. The current collective-bargaining agreement stipulates that because he played an extra year of major junior hockey before going to Wisconsin, Anaheim had 30 days after he decommitted to sign him, or he became a free agent, according to CBC. That occurred Monday. He can listen to offers starting Wednesday.
The 21-year-old is 6-foot-2, 185 pounds and is regarded as a player with a high hockey IQ and good skating ability. He's also a right-handed shot, which the Rangers crave right now as Dan Girardi is the only one under contract for next season, but he certainly doesn't have the offensive upside as Schultz. The blueliner had 16 goals and 44 points with Wisconsin last year, finishing his career with 40 markers and 73 assists in 121.
Schultz is said to be looking to play closer to his home in West Kelowna, British Columbia, or with former Wisconsin teammates. The Rangers have two of them in Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh, which definitely puts them in the running.
The problem lies in the fact that under the CBA, no team can win Schultz over with money, as he has to sign an entry-level contract -- which was $925,000 this past year. So this decision will ultimately become the defenseman's. Beyond comfort, he is also seeking a chance at a big role and doesn't want to play for a team that will just assume he has to play in the minors. New York has a number of young defenseman who would figure to slot in higher in the depth chart, but it does have McDonagh as an example of one whom the organization is not afraid of throwing into a top pairing with a lot of responsibility. Plus, the Rangers have become an organization willing to give young players chances; in fact, coach John Tortorella can't say enough about the team's green players and continuing to give youth a chance.
Schultz's abilty, his age and future contract situation mean that there are countless teams trying to woo him. The Rangers are one, but the Red Wings, Flyers, Maple Leafs, Canucks, Oilers and Blackhawks are just some of the teams that have shown interest.
"The competition for Schultz will be every bit as intense as the competition for Suter and Parise," former broadcaster Ray Ferraro told a Canadian sports radio station recently.
NHL Offseason News: Big-Name Trades and Draft Set Up Looming Intriguing Free Agency Period (via sbnation)