Veteran Schultz expected off-season change

Tuesday, 11.06.2013 / 1:45 PM
Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com

EDMONTON - When the season ended back on Apr. 27, veteran defenceman Nick Schultz left the rink that night expecting big change over the off-season.

With a new general manager in charge, it seemed all but certain. Six weeks into the summer, it's become reality.

The "bold" changes Craig MacTavish has been hinting at are already happening. Ralph Krueger was relieved of his duties as Head Coach over the weekend and was almost instantaneously replaced by one of North America's most highly sought-after coaching prospects, Dallas Eakins.

On the player personnel side of things, the GM's comments have not been lost on those who lace up the blades.

As MacTavish said Saturday during a media conference at the Oilers Head Office, every move is a calculated one "for the betterment of the hockey club."

It's a winning philosophy Schultz couldn't possibly disagree with.

"As a player here and as a team, we need to be better," he said. "[MacTavish] is looking at what we need to do to be better moving forward. With that in mind, hopefully he can make some changes that can really improve our team heading into next season."

That process is already underway.

With multiple teams courting his services, MacTavish and the Oilers signed free agent defenceman Anton Belov to a one-year entry-level contract on May 30.

MacTavish has also praised the development of fellow left-handed rearguard Oscar Klefbom, who's expected to challenge for a full-time roster spot in the fall.

Schultz, Klefbom, Belov, Ladislav Smid, Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz and Corey Potter will all be pushed by prospects Martin Marincin and Taylor Fedun, both of whom had exceptional post-seasons with the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons this spring.

Of course, that's as it stands right now. MacTavish might not be done adding pieces to the already talented puzzle he's inherited.

"It's a good thing," Schultz said. "It's nice when you can bring in some other pieces to help out and improve the team. Obviously, you want to get better every year and the more players that you can add and the better talent you can get on your team, the better off we'll be.

"Ultimately it's up to us as a team to come together on the ice and produce a better product. Hopefully those guys can help add to that and help make us a better team."

Playing big minutes alongside Justin Schultz, Nick, 30, appeared in all 48 games last season, posting a goal, nine points and a -13 rating. He's the first to admit it wasn't his strongest statistical campaign, but he's eager to improve on it next season with a more balanced lineup committed to team defence.

Fittingly enough, it falls right in line with new Head Coach Dallas Eakins' early message of players thriving in their roles, competing and pushing the pace on both sides of the puck.

"I think it comes down to everyone playing better team defence," Schultz said. "If you look at the teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs right now, there are a lot of close games. Teams are winning 1-0 and 2-1, so it comes down to everyone playing their role and becoming a better team all around.

"The strides we made (last season) were good. It was good to get into a playoff position and what happened after that was a tough lesson to learn. If we can understand the feeling that we had in the room, how much fun in was to be in that position and play meaningful games, we'll be better off for it.

"As a young group, a young team, I think we can build off that run. We have to use it heading into a full season next year."

While Schultz reflects on the opportunity ahead, he's about to tackle the hard work required to make it a reality. Once he and his family pack up after the school year ends in Edmonton, he'll head to his off-season home in Calgary, quickly recharge and then ramp up his workouts in order to be ready for the 2013-14 season.

-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick

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