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Oilers agree to terms with highly sought-after free agent, Justin Schultz

21-year-old defenceman chooses Edmonton, will sign two-year ELC Sunday

Saturday, 30.06.2012 / 7:30 PM / News
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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Oilers agree to terms with highly sought-after free agent, Justin Schultz
Edmonton, AB - The Edmonton Oilers have landed one of the summer's hottest free agents.

Justin Schultz, 21 (although he turns 22 on Jul. 6), has agreed to terms on a two-year entry-level contract worth $925,000 with the Oilers -- he'll receive a $92,500 signing bonus and, if he hits all bonus marks, will be a worth a cap hit of $3.755 million US.

"It's been a long process for me and a lot of tension that I didn't think was going to get involved in it, but I'm glad it's over and am really glad to be a part of the Edmonton Oilers organization," Schultz said as I spoke to him over the phone Saturday night. "It's a team I grew up always liking and I'm really excited right now.

"You look at the team they have right now with all those young guys that are turning into superstars," he continued. "They have a good, solid core of young prospects and that's intriguing to me."

The Oilers met with Schultz -- who become an unrestricted free agent this past Sunday -- on Thursday in Toronto and presented their case. With almost every team in the league making a pitch, the Oilers brought out the big guns.

In addition to Head Coach Ralph Krueger, President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe, Senior VP of Hockey Operations Craig MacTavish and Taylor Hall, a pair of Oilers legends pitched in to help sell Edmonton: Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey.

"Going into that process, I didn't expect that and it's obviously pretty neat to get calls from guys that are legends in the game," Schultz said. "[Gretzky and Coffey were] very nice guys and really shed light on the city of Edmonton and what it's like to play there."

Schultz also connected with Hall and Krueger, who helped lay out the Oilers' style in the bench boss' eloquent words.

"I thought there couldn't be a better fit."

Simply put, the Oilers are getting a very good young hockey player. Schultz has spent the past three seasons with the WCHA's University of Wisconsin Badgers, posting 16 goals and 44 points in 37 regular-season games in 2011-12.

Fitting, considering he looks up to guys likes Pittsburgh's Kris Letang and Los Angeles' Drew Doughty.

He was originally selected 43rd overall by the Anaheim Ducks in 2008, but chose not to sign, pitting at least 26 teams against one another in effort to ink the smooth-skating rearguard.

And the Oilers won.

"All teams could offer the same contract and he had a chance to select his team and where he wanted to grow as a National (Hockey) League player, and he chose the Edmonton Oilers," General Manager Steve Tambellini said Saturday night. "It speaks volumes to the work that a lot of people have been doing in our organization.

While he can't dot the Is and cross the Ts until tomorrow at 10:00am MT, Schultz indicated that a decision would be announced today. Sticking to his word, TSN's Darren Dreger and Bob McKenzie began peppering Twitter with messages about which teams had lost out.

Edmonton's name wasn't revealed until they were declared winners, and it was Schultz himself who ended the suspense.

"He (Schultz) called here," Tambellini said with a bright, ear-to-ear grin as he addressed local media. "I spoke to Craig (MacTavish) and when I walked into the room, there was this big cheer.

"When you speak to his agents, Justin was the person driven the bus. He made the decisions, he made the calls -- and when you speak to him, he was the calm voice that you would think should be overwhelming for a young player, but he's obviously handled everything with a lot of class and a lot of poise."

The decision to leave Anaheim created an uproar. There were questions about the blueliner's character, particularly when rumours about him requesting guaranteed ice-time were made public.

"No, none at all," he said, squashing that rumour. "I made it clear and [the Oilers] did as well, that there are no guarantees in this game. I don't want to be the guy that has a guaranteed spot, I want to earn my spot -- I have to earn it.

"I have nothing bad to say about the Ducks organization. It was great to be part of an organization with such classy people and I enjoyed my time at all the prospect camps. It basically came down to me having the option to choose where I wanted to play."

With connections to the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs organizations, Schultz's intentions were unclear. But even with a buddy courting him on the east coast, Edmonton was his choice.

"Those teams are great organizations that have really good people involved," Schultz said. If you look at (Leafs defenceman) Jake (Gardiner), that was something we always used to talk about, but when it came down to it, it was about the best fit for me -- and I thought the Edmonton Oilers were it.

"It was a long summer and I've still got to make the team, if I'm fortunate enough to make the team."

"We believe he can step in right away and contribute," Tambellini added. "How we mix and match, we'll have to see how that works.

"Good things are happening."

Oil Country can't disagree. It's a huge day for the Edmonton Oilers organization.

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

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