In the winter of 2015, Justin Schultz’s future was unclear. The 48th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft was experiencing career lows across the board, and floundering with an Oilers team who finished that season with the second-worst record in hockey. His two prior 30-point seasons were a distant memory as Schultz struggled to even crack the lineup on a nightly basis.
Just a few months later, he was traded to Pittsburgh and completely reworked his game. The next season, Schultz tallied 12 goals and 39 assists in 78 games with the Pens. A new environment greatly helped his play, and he, in turn, contributed immensely to the championship seasons in ’16 and ’17.
Jamie Oleksiak’s story is slightly different, but it turns out similarly to that of Schultz. His career hadn’t gotten the traction that Schultz experienced in his first three years, before Schultz’s decline in 2015. Oleksiak was drafted 14th overall by the Stars in 2011 but only played 140 games in six seasons with them (an average of just 23 games per season). After his arrival in Pittsburgh this season as well as a brief adjustment period, Oleksiak proved himself to be a valuable asset to the Penguin’s blue line, logging a career high in points as well as finishing with a positive +/- for the first time in his NHL career.
It is clear that the Pittsburgh fanbase is split on the arrival of Jack Johnson from Columbus. Some are all too eager to point out his shortcomings last season, a season in which he was a healthy scratch come playoff time. As troubling as last year’s numbers could be, they are an anomaly when compared to Johnson’s play in the years prior.
Columbus is not Pittsburgh.
That statement is not meant to demean Columbus or give off elitist undertones. It is meant to bring a sense of reality. The Penguins locker room is a completely different environment than that of the Blue Jackets, and the same can be said for the way these teams approach and execute each game.
A change of scenery did wonders for Justin Schultz and Jamie Oleksiak. This seems to be a trend with defensemen arriving in Pittsburgh, and Jack Johnson could very well end up being a similar story.