The last month and a half has not been easy for Jeff Schultz. The defenseman has been a healthy scratch 13 of the past 15 games and has only played in six of 20 games since Coach Dale Hunter took the reigns in late November.
Considering that during the 2009-10 season Schultz was a top-four defenseman on the Capitals team that won the Presidents’ Trophy, it’s been a rapid and frustrating fall from grace for the 25-year-old.
“I just want to play, that’s what it comes down to,” Schultz said. “Whether it’s here or somewhere else, I just want to play.”
Schultz, who is in the second season of a four-year contract and will have a salary cap hit of $2.75 million each of the next two years, said he has not asked the Capitals for a trade and that his agent will handle any discussions with the team.
Schultz was a healthy scratch on Nov. 29 against St. Louis, the first game the Capitals played under Hunter. He was in the lineup for the next four contests, but on Dec. 7 at Ottawa he played just 3 minutes and 55 seconds and Hunter said the Calgary native didn’t “fit”.
Since then, Schultz has played twice. He saw 6:01 of ice time against Nashville on Dec. 20 and 9:46 at Columbus on Dec. 31.
“It’s something that I’ve never gone through in my career,” Schultz said recently of the benching. “You think you’re doing things that you know can help you get back out there, but you just don’t have a sense or an idea of what is working what isn’t working. Or how to get in and why you’re sitting out — stuff like that.”
When Washington recalled 22-year-old rookie Tomas Kundratek to make his NHL debut this week against Pittsburgh, it painted an even stronger picture that Schultz may no longer fit into the Capitals’ long-term plans.
Schultz has appeared in 27 of 42 games this season, has five assists and is a plus-1. Assistant coach Jim Johnson has worked with Schultz since joining Hunter’s staff and has said before he’d like to see the 6-foot-6, 230-pound blueliner be a little more physical.
“You just kind of keep working hard in practice, when you get your chances make the most of it and hopefully you do something that they like and you can play a couple games,” said Schultz, who was asked if the coaching staff was asking him to overhaul his game. “I can’t put my finger on one thing. It’s kind of hard to sense what they’re telling me to do.”
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