After reflecting on the year and discussing his breakout sophomore forward Mark Zengerle, Wisconsin men’s hockey head coach Mike Eaves and Herald Sports turned the conversation toward two-time All-American defenseman Justin Schultz in the second installment of the Q&A on the state of Badgers hockey.
Kelly Erickson: On that topic, let’s turn the conversation to Justin Schultz next. Obviously, he still hasn’t said anything about going pro. Do you have any updates?
Mike Eaves: Justin is quiet to begin with. Because of that fact, he keeps his cards pretty close to his chest. The fact that he hasn’t signed indicates that he’s probably not going to sign with Anaheim. I guess if he was going to go he would’ve gone. I think that what he’s doing is he’s using that rule that he can become a free agent. I think he’s going to play that card – that’s my own thought process based on the fact that he didn’t sign right away. We don’t see the guys quite as much any more, but the one comment that he says is ‘it’s really complicated.’ So he’s keeping things really close, but I’m pretty sure we’re not going to have Justin back next year.
KE: I was thinking along the same lines, but I’ve been hearing some rumors that he might stick around.
ME: Yeah maybe; there’s the possibility of a strike next year. If there’s a lockout, what would Justin do then? Would he want to go play in the minors, or would he want to come back and finish? That’s the one thing that’s a sliver of hope for him returning.
KE: When’s the last time that you’ve had a defenseman like him?
ME: Well, we’ve had some awfully good young defensemen here in terms of point production. Jamie McBain comes to mind right away. Jake Gardiner was the same type of skill, maybe didn’t put up the points that Justin had. I think Brendan Smith was a guy that had a magic shot like Justin. Justin, his ability to quarterback the power play and get his shot through either with his velocity, his accuracy or he has the ability to take a little bit off of it, what we call a smart shot, that is the right shot at the right time. So we’ve had some really talented people in that aspect, but I think this year his ability to control the game and all aspects with and without the puck may have separated him a little bit, and the fact that he has that unbelievable work ethic and competitiveness that goes along with that skill: That makes him special.
KE: Have you ever heard of coaches specifically scouting defensemen the way they do for Schultz?
ME: When you watch defensemen as a hockey coach – and I was a forward – I had to teach myself as a coach to look for specific things that a defenseman does in his game. For instance … the way a defenseman skates backwards, the way he pivots, the way he uses his stick when he’s checking, his positioning out front – those are the little nuances of being a good defenseman. With Justin, it was a little easier to notice him because here was this young man, in the very first game I saw him, within the first five minutes, I’m going ‘Whoa, we have something special here.’ What jumped out to me was his ability offensively to join the rush, to carry the puck, to see the ice and not only to see the ice but to make the play. … Those are two sides of the coin you look at in defensemen. As a head coach, I had to learn to look for those things, but with Justin, he jumped off the map because of his offensive prowess.
Be sure to check Herald Sports Tuesday and Wednesday for the final two installments of Eaves’ interview.