Playing close to home, Kraken newcomer Justin Schultz having big impact

Nov 20, 2022, 2:18 PM | Updated: 2:34 pm
Seattle Kraken Justin Schultz...
Seattle Kraken defenseman Justin Schultz warms up before the game against Winnipeg on Nov. 13, 2022. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

If any player on the Seattle Kraken roster has a claim on being a local product, it’s Justin Schultz.

While the veteran defenseman isn’t from the Seattle area per se or even Washington state, he did grow up in Kelowna, British Columbia, which is only a five-hour drive away from the Emerald City and just two hours from the US-Canada border in north central Washington.

Schultz’s conversation Friday on Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy made his local bonafides pretty clear.

“I love Seattle. We always were not too far away in the summer so we usually make a trip down here,” Schultz told Michael Bumpus and guest co-host Curtis Rogers. “And you know, when this opportunity arose (to sign with the Kraken) it was pretty much a no-brainer for me and my wife, and we’re thrilled to be here.”

An avid golfer, Schultz mentioned that he had even played Chambers Bay in University Place years before joining the Kraken – in fact, years before the Kraken even existed.

“I played Chambers a few years ago. It was quite a while (ago) actually – it was right after the (U.S.) Open they had there (in 2015) – and that was still one of my favorite courses,” he said.

Schultz has had more impact since joining the Kraken than just being somewhat of a nice homecoming story, though. His 10 points are tied for fifth on the team overall and tied for the lead among Seattle defensemen with Vince Dunn, and the 32 year old has proven to been a key addition for a team that is currently third in the Pacific Division and has gone 7-1-1 in its last nine games.

Schultz especially played a big role on Thursday night when he had the first multi-goal game of his career, including the game-winner in overtime of a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers at Climate Pledge Arena. That gave Seattle its first OT win of the season in its third try (they went on to win a second straight OT game Saturday over the Los Angeles Kings).

“That felt good, obviously,” Schultz said of his two-goal performance against New York. “Great to help the team, and the most important thing is getting the two points and move on from there.”

The Kraken clearly are showing more cohesion in their second season compared to their rough 2021-22 NHL debut, and the veteran presence of players like Schultz, who won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017, is paying off. So is the familiarity he has with the player who scored the game-winner in OT on Saturday – his former teammate with the Edmonton Oilers, Jordan Eberle.

“We’ve been buddies for a while,” Schultz said of Eberle, “and it was nice to come here and play with him again. … I’ve played with a few guys here so it was definitely an easy transition and enjoying it so far.”

Schultz isn’t the only one with championship experience on Seattle’s roster, which is valuable for the younger core the team is building around promising players like Matty Beniers and Shane Wright.

“We’ve got some veteran guys on the team – myself, Ebs (Eberle), Jonesy (goalie Martin Jones). You know, Gourdo (Yanni Gourde) has won a couple of Cups. So (the younger players) are all eager to learn and anytime I can help them out, I will for sure,” he said. “… We’ve got a great group in there and everyone wants to win, make the city proud.”

So far, the Kraken have been doing just that by forming an identity on the ice that maybe wasn’t as evident in their first season.

“We work extremely hard, good skating, team skills,” Schultz said when asked to describe the team’s playing style, “and when we have the puck we’re pretty dangerous. I think key for us is just defending hard like we have, and we’re gonna get our chances. So it’s just a matter of defending hard and using our speed and making it tough on teams.”

The Kraken, who so far have a strong 3-1-1 record on their current homestand, have a few days to prepare for their homestand finale Wednesday night against the San Jose Sharks, who are in seventh place now in the eight-team Pacific Division.

You can listen to the full conversation with Schultz in the second segment of the podcast at this link or in the player below.

A closer look at consistent Kraken defensemen pairing of Dunn, Larsson

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Playing close to home, Kraken newcomer Justin Schultz having big impact