Oilers' Justin Schultz looking to take next step

Friday, 08.09.2013 / 3:05 PM NHL.com

In his first professional season, Edmonton Oilers defenseman Justin Schultz enjoyed a breakout year.

Following a standout career at the University of Wisconsin, Schultz signed with the Oilers and immediately starred with the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Oklahoma City during the lockout. Despite playing only 34 games with the Barons, Schultz was named to the 2012-13 AHL First All-Star Team.

After joining the Oilers, he followed that up with 27 points to lead all rookie defensemen.

Entering his first full 82-game NHL season, he's looking to truly make his mark on a young up-and-coming Oilers team.

"It started really well in the AHL. I got to play with [Jordan Eberle] and [Taylor Hall] and [Ryan Nugent-Hopkins]. It was a good adjustment for me," Schultz said Friday after visiting the Oilers' summer hockey school. "Coming to the NHL was a bit of an adjustment. At times I was feeling fatigued because I wasn't used to those games. Overall, I think it was a good first year and I'm looking to improve on it."

Over the summer, the Oilers bolstered their inexperienced lineup with some veteran free agents. The biggest additions were to a defensive core that ranked 19th in the League in goals allowed in 2012-13.

Andrew Ference signed as a free agent, and Philip Larsen was acquired in a trade with the Dallas Stars. Anton Belov was signed after spending the past five seasons with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Finally, the team added top prospect Darnell Nurse with the seventh pick of the 2013 NHL Draft.

With all the change on the back end, it was the addition of Ference, who won the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011, that had Schultz most excited.

"He's a solid D-man," Schultz said. "I think, with a guy like me or Jeff Petry, we want to join the rush and he's always going to be back there providing the stability that we need."

Wth Schultz, 23, figuring prominently into the future of the Oilers, the Kelowna, British Columbia, native is ready to report to training camp and start what could be a big season in Edmonton.

"We've got a lot of depth on the back end now. It's going to provide for a lot of competition. Everyone, including myself, has got to come ready to camp to make this team. It's going to make us better," Schultz said. "I've been training hard the last couple of months, enjoying my time off. I'm really excited for the season to come here. I've had enough of summer. I'm ready to go."

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