The Edmonton Oilers unveiled part of their future while securing a key player from their past Sunday.
Shortly after introducing free-agent signing Justin Schultz, the Oilers also announced they had come to terms with veteran forward Ryan Smyth.
Schultz, a Kelowna, B.C. native, had his pick of NHL squads to choose from this past week after becoming an unrestricted free agent when he opted not to sign with the Anaheim Ducks, who drafted him in the second round in 2008.
A bidding war erupted for the University of Wisconsin defenceman, with teams flying representatives to Toronto to woo him, but ultimately the cards were stacked in favour of the Oilers.
“I’m very excited to be a part of this organization,” said Schultz, who turns 22 next week. “I grew up always loving to watch the Oilers. Being a (Vancouver) Canucks fan, they were always my second team. This has been a long process for me and I am glad it is over with and that I can get back to work. I never expected to get this much attention. I never wanted it to get that big. I have never played a game in the NHL. It was overwhelming.
“Once I knew I was going to go through this process, Edmonton was always in the back of my mind. With all of the young talent they have here, I saw myself fitting in pretty good. I’m very excited.”
Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini called Schultz’s two-year entry-level deal a big step forward for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since an improbable Stanley Cup run in 2006.
“This signing means so much to us,” said Tambellini. “It was his choice of probably wherever he wanted to go in the National Hockey League. For him to choose us for the right reasons and confirm that he wanted to be part of this organization going forward with the likes of some of the elite young players we have seen here in the last couple of years is so exciting for us.”
Smyth meanwhile returns on a two-year deal worth $4.5-million. The 36-year-old had 19 goals and 46 points in 82 games for Edmonton last season after being granted a trade to the team from the Los Angeles Kings last summer.
The 36-year-old was the sixth overall pick by the Oilers in 1994 and has spent 12 of his 16 NHL seasons with the team.
In 1,151 career games, Smyth has 374 goals and 806 points.
The Oilers also re-signed goaltender Yann Danis to a one-year deal. The 31-year-old had a 26-14-2 record with the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons with a 2.07 goals-against average, a .924 save percentage and five shutouts.
Schultz joins a team seemingly bursting at the seams with offensively gifted young players like Jordan Eberle and first overall draft picks Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.
“I saw myself having a long career with those guys and having lots of success,” he said.
As part of the courting process, the Oilers arranged to have Schultz receive calls from Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey, urging him to choose Edmonton.
“That was pretty surreal,” he said. “I definitely did not expect to get those calls. I don’t think I said anything when they called. I was just in awe. It definitely showed the passion of the organization. Talking to Wayne, he definitely told me how passionate people are here and what a great place it is to play.”
The newly-minted Oilers defenceman said recently named Edmonton head coach Ralph Krueger also played a role in his decision.
“The thing that stuck out for me was his passion for the game,” Schultz said. “Sitting in the interview, when he was talking I was getting chills and fired up.”
Schultz said he is happy to put the free agent process and the inevitable questioning of his character that came with it behind him and get to work trying to land a regular spot with the Oilers.
“I think I am ready for it,” he said. “Some people have made it out that I was looking for a guarantee of ice time, but that was never the case. I want to earn my spot and I know I am going to have to do that come the fall. I know I am going to have to work hard this summer and be ready come the camp.
“I want to earn everything I get.”
Ironically enough, when Schultz was drafted by the Ducks four years ago, it was using one of the Oiler draft picks the team was awarded in the wake of Edmonton’s restricted free agent signing of Dustin Penner.
Schultz said his decision not to sign with the Ducks was more reflective of a desire to play in Canada than anything to do with that organization.
“It was nothing ever to do against Anaheim,” he said. “They have great people there. It was a matter of me having the option to choose where I wanted to play and playing in Canada has always been a huge thing for me. You definitely see the passion up here.”
Tambellini said he feels the Schultz signing is indicative of the positive direction the team is moving in.
“We’re just starting to see the rewards of some hard decisions,” he said. “We are getting close now to being the team we want to show.”