Can you name the three players the Washington Capitals
selected in the first round of the memorable 2004 Entry Draft in Raleigh, N.C.?
With the No. 1 choice, the Caps chose their future franchise player, Alex Ovechkin
. At No. 29, they chose mobile defenseman Mike Green
. And sandwiched between those perennial point-producers was a Calgary native selected No. 27 -- defenseman Jeff Schultz
While Ovechkin and Green have dominated the headlines, Schultz is slowly but surely earning his own unique reputation as a reliable, stay-at-home blueliner.
"That '04 draft was kind of neat," Schultz told NHL.com, "especially with Ovi there. He kind of steals all the attention away from Mike and myself. But Mike has kind of developed into a key player here while I've kind of slid under the radar -- just doing my thing to help and remain in the League."
Schultz needn't worry about that, though. Very quietly and without much fanfare, he's become a key fixture on the back end for the Capitals this season. He's been partnered with Green and, most recently, has worked side-by-side with Tom Poti
In fact, Schultz is earning some headlines of his own in recent weeks. He leads the League with a plus-27 rating, including a plus-12 over the last six contests, and is five points shy of equaling his career-high of 18, established in 2007-08.
His impressive plus-minus rating is something Schultz doesn't take lightly. Ovechkin, by the way, is second in the League with a plus-23 rating.
"That's kind of one stat you don't really look at too much, but to be the leader in the League is great," he said of the plus/minus category.
Now in his fourth NHL season, Schultz laughed when asked if he's excited about grabbing some of the limelight in Washington.
"The guys will still bug you on the team, but that's nice because it really makes you more a part of the team there," he said.
Schultz also leads the Capitals with 64 blocked shots while averaging 19:26 of ice time per game. Coach Bruce Boudreau
has great confidence in Schultz, as evidenced by the fact he sees plenty of time on the penalty kill and has led the team in ice time in two of the last three games.
Schultz points to training camp in September as a critical point in his turnaround. He knew it was important to prove to the organization that he had recovered from a rib injury that sidelined him for all but one game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring.
"I kind of had a lot to prove after my injury in the playoffs last year and wanted to get back to being a key part of this team and being a top-four defenseman out there," Schultz said. "So I came into camp and got into the best shape possible and was in the lineup at the start of the year. I got on a little role there and was getting better and better."
Certainly a lot of hard work was put in along the way following his draft year. Schultz spent two seasons with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League before joining the Capitals' American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey in 2006-07.
"I think I gained a lot of confidence in my final (junior) year with Calgary (2005-06) -- we had a strong team and I was one of those players they really relied on to help out," Schultz said. "I liked having that added pressure on me to play well and contribute. (Then-assistant coach) Dave Lowry
put a lot of emphasis on trying to get me to be the best player out there every night. He played a big part in helping me get to where I am today."
"That '04 draft was kind of neat, especially with Ovi there. He kind of steals all the attention away from Mike and myself. But Mike has kind of developed into a key player here while I've kind of slid under the radar -- just doing my thing to help and remain in the League." -- Jeff Schultz
It was during a three-game stretch, from Oct. 22-27, that Schultz began feeling comfortable in his role -- notching a goal, 5 points and a plus-5 rating over that span.
Being a key cog on the penalty-kill is also something he takes very seriously. While it remains an area that needs to be improved -- the Caps are 25th in the League in killing penalties -- he's third on the club in average shorthanded ice time per game at 2:40.
"That's one of the areas where, personally, I want to be the best," Schultz said. "You always want to be the best in all categories as a team and that's one area where I can help this team."
He's grateful coach Bruce Boudreau
has shown the confidence in him to play those tough minutes.
"Bruce expects the best out of everyone and if you're struggling he lets you know and tells you what he expects," Schultz said. "When you're playing well, he keeps your confidence where it is and builds it up higher. That helps a lot because he's always there urging you on to be the best you can be."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.