And now Schultz, who turned 26 last week, will be with the Pens to help defend their championship after signing a one-year deal with the team on Wednesday.
“I think it’s a good fit for me,” he said. “I felt like I played well when I came to Pittsburgh and the organization’s been great for me. I love the coaches, my teammates, everything. I love the city. It’s just been a great experience and I couldn’t be more excited to go back there.”
The defenseman, who was acquired from Edmonton for a 2016 third-round pick on Feb. 27, inked his contract for $1.4 million – a significant decrease from the $3.9 million he made last year. It’s a price Schultz was willing to pay to return to the organization and city that rejuvenated his young career.
“I said right after we won that Pittsburgh was my No. 1, it’s been my No. 1 all through this process,” he said. “I just loved playing there and I’m super excited to get back it.”
When Schultz first arrived in Pittsburgh, both he and Pens general manager Jim Rutherford talked about how much a fresh start could benefit the young blueliner – who had struggled in Edmonton after a promising start to his pro career.
Everything ended up going better than either probably could have imagined.
“It was a busy four, five months there,” Schultz said. “I never thought that was possible and then I got an opportunity and the team was just so good and it was so much fun to play for, I can’t wait to get back with them.”
After making his NHL playoff debut in Game 1 of the First Round against the New York Rangers, Schultz was a healthy scratch for seven of the next nine games. He then rejoined the lineup for good in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay and was a key member of the blue line during the rest of the run.
Moving forward, that experience – which ended with him lifting Lord Stanley’s silver chalice over his head after setting up Brian Dumoulin’s opening goal of their Cup-clinching victory in Game 6 against San Jose – has helped his growth as a player tremendously.
“Just knowing you’ve won the Cup gives you some confidence going in,” Schultz said. “Plus you’re comfortable with the guys you’ve played with those last four months there. It gives you confidence. I’m really excited to go out there and show what I got.”
Throughout our conversation, Schultz reiterated numerous times just how fantastic of a job his teammates did of acclimating him and making him feel like a part of the group.
“My teammates did such a great job of making me feel comfortable, which is such a big thing,” he said. “I feel comfortable there. I feel comfortable on the ice with those guys and we’re having a lot of fun. It’s going to be a similar group next year, so I’m super excited.”
As for his role – which was a lessened one compared to the one he shouldered with the Oilers, where he was the top guy on their blue line – Schultz, who is one of just two right-handed shots along with Kris Letang as of now, is hoping to handle a bigger one with the Pens.
“I’m going to be an offensive guy who moves from the blue line, jumps up when I can and creates offense, but also be responsible in my own end and gain the trust of the coaches to maybe put me out there in tougher situations late in the game against other team’s top lines or stuff like that,” he said. “Just coming in and doing what I can.”
It will certainly help having the benefit of a training camp and being with the team from the beginning instead of joining them mid-season. Either way, despite the short summer Schultz is already ready to get back.
“You miss the guys,” he said. “We had a pretty tight group there. It’ll be fun to get back with the guys and for me, have a full year with them and take it from there and it should be good.”
MORE FROM SCHULTZ…
Who helped your growth the most during your time here?
All the coaches were good. I think the one that sticks out, though, is Sergei Gonchar. Just the little things he would show me went a long way, and I’m looking forward to working with him again next year.
How much are you looking forward to having most of the same guys back on the blue line?
It’ll be great. We’re all comfortable with each other, we all know each other and we’re all great friends, so it’s going to be fun to get back with those guys and see what we can do next year.
What do you like the most about Pittsburgh?
It’s a passionate sports city. Edmonton was the same way. They’re pretty passionate with their hockey. But I like Pittsburgh just because you’ve got the football, you’ve got the baseball, you’ve got the other sports going on – there’s always a buzz going around the city. It’s fun to be around.
Looking back on it, what moment stands out to you the most from winning the Cup?
I think my favorite was right after the game just in the dressing room with the guys and at the hotel. That was probably the only time we were really just all the guys together, so that was pretty cool.
What are your plans for your day with the Cup?
I’ll be bringing it back to Kelowna and doing a bunch of stuff here. Probably take it to where the minor hockey kids can see it and get pictures there, and then probably have a big party at my house and take it from there.