This wasn’t the first time for Nick Schultz, but it was different. The Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman, acquired at the trade deadline from Edmonton, has been through this once before in his career. It was just two years ago, when he was moved to the Oilers, from Minnesota.
"I think when I got traded from Minnesota to Edmonton it was a shock. I wasn’t really expecting it," Schultz explained. "I had been in Minnesota for 10 years and wasn’t really expecting that trade. This one, with the situation in Edmonton — being out of the playoffs — and being a UFA in the summer, I knew it was a strong possibility.
"And Edmonton had spoken to me about potentially getting traded to a team that was in a playoff situation," he continued. "I’m looking forward to playing meaningful games and hopefully being in a playoff spot at the end of the season."
For a couple of those seasons with the Wild, Schultz played for Todd Richards. So it’s a reunion tour of sorts for him, and he agrees it makes this transition a bit easier.
"I think some of the systems and some of the things they’re doing here are similar to what we were doing in Minnesota with him," he said. "They’re not exactly the same, but — yeah — if it’s a coach you’re familiar with it helps, and Todd being familiar with me had something to do with Columbus trading for me. Obviously he coached me a couple of years and understood my game and what I could bring to the team here."
While he may have known what was coming at the trade deadline this time, the native of Saskatchewan wasn’t aware of the injuries that have recently depleted the Blue Jackets defensive corps. And compounding the situation was the hit Nikita Nikitin took to the chin in Chicago that knocked him out of the rest of that game and the next one in Nashville. At that point, Columbus was missing three of its top-six defensemen. Schultz welcomes the chance to play an even bigger role as a guy with significant experience playing big games.
"I didn’t really know the situation when I was notified of the trade as far as who was banged up or anything," he mentioned. "Obviously, they needed to add somebody for depth. And as you go along in the stretch run and into the playoffs, you’ll have guys that get banged up. So, to have the depth there is good, and hopefully we can get some guys back soon.
"I know as a young player, you always look to veterans for help," Schultz went on. "So if I can help out in that way, I’m happy to do it. Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski have played a long time, and they’re a big part of the team here, and guys lean on them, but it’s nice to have other guys back there that have played and can also help."
Schultz is finally in his new hometown of Columbus after the team’s last lengthy road trip of the year. But, at least for the time being, his young family will remain in Edmonton. It would just be too much uprooting for them to handle right now, he says.
"I have three young kids, a boy and two girls, so my wife right now is in Edmonton with them. My son is in first grade and one of my daughters is in pre-school. They’ll probably come and visit, but to pull them from school and have them move right away is pretty tough, to put that strain on them. They’ll visit when they can, but they’ve got to stick around Edmonton for now."
As Schultz does what he can to help the Blue Jackets to their second-ever playoff berth, there was a time earlier in his career when he thought long playoff runs would be a regular thing. After all, he played in 18 playoff games with Minnesota in 2003, in only his second full season in the NHL. But, 11 years later, he has played in only six more, the last one coming in 2008
"It was great – playoffs are what it’s all about," Schultz said of that three-round run by the Wild. "It was enjoyable, especially as a young player. I think you kind of take it for granted at the time and probably think it’s going to happen every year. Then you go a bunch of years without being there. It’s a special feeling when you have a team that’s in that opportunity, and you have to make sure you grab hold of it and don’t miss out on it."