Schultz Nearing Return for Penguins

Pittsburgh defenseman practiced with team Thursday

Josh Rowntree
January 31, 2019 - 4:10 pm
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz (4) moves the puck against the Montreal Canadiens during the second period at PPG PAINTS Arena. Montreal won 5-1.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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The Penguins could be close to getting back one of their top defenseman. Justin Schultz, out since October 13 with a serious left leg injury, was able to practice Thursday with the team. 

“Obviously that was the first real practice, so there wasn’t much,” said Schultz, who wore a non-contact jersey during the 40-minute session. “It was good to get out there and do reactionary stuff and not just set drills. We tested it out that way and felt pretty good today. It’s getting exciting, getting closer.”

For now, however, Schultz is taking it a day at a time.

“It was just really slow,” he said of the recovery process. “The first couple of months were slow. It’s starting to pick up now that I’m with the team most of the time and skating, everything. 

“Each day, you do notice a little bit of improvement and that’s what you want. It’s not going to get better overnight, it’s a pretty serious injury. As long as there’s no setbacks, it’s all good.”

Schultz’s injury occurred when he crashed, awkwardly, into the boards in Montreal. It was just Pittsburgh’s fourth game of the season.

“It’s been a long time,” Schultz added. “It’s not fun being by yourself, rehabbing and skating by yourself. So it’s good to be with the team. It’s why you love this game, being around your teammates. 

“I think it’s the longest I’ve ever gone in my life without skating.”

His coaches and teammates seemed delighted to have Schultz back in the mix.

“It’s huge,” forward Riley Sheahan said. “He’s a huge part of our team and he does a lot for us so, to get him back in the lineup, will help a ton. He’s a great guy to have around in the locker room too, so that’s nice.”

“It’s great,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan added. “And the enthusiasm and energy is contagious. I think ‘Shultzy’ is excited to be on the ice and to be around his teammates. That’s what drives them. When it’s taken away from you, sometimes you appreciate it a little more when you get back in the environment.”

Schultz could be a key addition now for the Penguins. Pittsburgh is coming off an impressive 4-2 win over the NHL’s top team, Tampa Bay, Wednesday night. But that snapped a stretch in which they had lost four of five games. 

Schultz had four assists in his first three games before the injury. In 163 games with the Penguins, Schultz has 17 goals and has racked up 90 points. In the postseason, Schultz has 25 points in 48 career games, including four power play goals. 

“He just adds that offensive aspect, breaking out the puck and that  first pass,” Sheahan said. “He’s really patient with the puck and he makes smart plays. All-around, I think he’s a solid player for us, especially on the power play and in the offensive zone he generates a lot of chances.”

“It’s a big step for him,” Sullivan added. “We’re excited to get him back in the fold here. We know he’s a real good defenseman. He’s going to help us going forward.”

Hear all of what Justin Schultz had to say below.