Rookie Rankings: Schultz No. 1

After torching AHL, Oilers defenseman picking up where he left off

Updated: January 29, 2013, 12:23 PM ET
By Grant Sonier | ESPN Insider
SchultzAnne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY SportsJustin Schultz looks like a veteran despite his rookie status.

As the NHL's veterans are reacclimating to the league, there are a slew of first-year skaters still getting their feet wet. And some are adapting to the best league in the world faster than others.

Each week we'll evaluate the league's top Calder Trophy candidates to become the NHL's rookie of the year, leaning heavily on my time spent as an NHL scout and talent evaluator. Through a handful of games, my top 10 candidates prior to the season have started strong for the most part. The highlight reels might suggest St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko is the early leader, but I am sticking to my guns for now with Edmonton Oilers defenseman Justin Schultz. Of course, if his teammate Nail Yakupov keeps scoring clutch goals with such flair, perhaps his name will be the next engraved on the coveted Calder.

As of Tuesday, Jan. 29, here is an early progress report on the rookie race based on my own viewing of their performances as well as talking with my many contacts within the game.

1. D Justin Schultz, Edmonton Oilers
Preseason rank: No. 1
Schultz remains my front-runner to win the rookie award after taking the AHL by storm during the lockout. The college free-agent signee comes into the league with lots of hype and the 6-foot-2 offensive-minded blueliner is living up to the early billing. Through five games he has accumulated five points (two goals, three assists) in four games and is averaging more than 23 minutes a game. That is very impressive. We are going to see just how good this youngster is with this kind of playing time. A number of scouts have told me he is already is playing like an NHL veteran. No doubt his AHL introduction to professional sports has assisted in making the transition.


To see the rest of Grant Sonier's Rookie Rankings, plus Insider's complete NHL coverage, sign up for ESPN Insider.