MANCHESTER -- JEFF SCHULTZ just wants to play hockey, and the Manchester Monarchs are grateful for that.
The 27-year-old defenseman has logged 399 NHL games over seven seasons, scoring 11 goals and 64 assists. But he played just 26 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season with the Washington Capitals. He came to the Los Angeles Kings in the offseason, but was put on waivers and cleared, landing in Manchester.
“I want to use it as an opportunity to get back to playing. That was the first thing for me,” Schultz said. “I haven’t played many games the last year and a half, so it was good to get back out there and get the confidence back in myself.”
From the start, Schultz has impressed the coaching staff. Many veterans don’t take a demotion to the AHL well, and some never even show up. But Schultz came in ready to work and willing to be a leader for a young Monarchs team.
“He’s just got that veteran presence in the room. Out on the ice, he’s not flashy, but he’s very thorough with his game,” Monarchs head coach Mark Morris said. “He’s got a high threshold for patience and when he holds onto the puck, most times he makes the right decision.”
At 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, Schultz packs a load on the ice. His size complements rookie Colin Miller, whom he has been paired with thus far. Miller is 6-feet, 170 pounds and a more slippery skater and puck-mover.
“Jeff isn’t real fleet of foot, so he plays to his strengths and he’s one of those guys that usually is able to make good choices with the puck on his stick,” Morris said. “He’s got great reach and it’s one of the reasons we have him paired with Colin Miller. He’s been doing a great job mentoring him. We’re all in this thing together so he’s doing some coaching while he’s playing and he’s one of those guys that, as a coach, you really value his experience and he brings a level of maturity to this group.”
Miller appreciates having Schultz as his partner and the pair have bonded well so far. With Schultz’ steady play and hockey IQ, Miller can open his offensive game a little more and trust that the veteran will cover for him.
“I’m trying to get more and more comfortable each game. It’s been great playing with Schultzy. He’s obviously a veteran guy and he makes it a lot easier out there,” said Miller, who scored his first pro goal last week. “He’s a big guy out there and solid defensively, so it counters off my game really well. He’s been great for me.”
Schultz said he knows that younger players can sometimes take advice easier from fellow players than coaches.
“As the game is going on, (I can) just kind of calm him down and if things aren’t going well, just be there for him,” Schultz said. “I remember in my rookie season I would rather have an older player come help me out rather than the coach. You kind of took it easier than the coach coming down on you. I tell him what I see out there and what to do.”
The duo are off to a solid start through seven games. Miller has a goal and assist and Schultz has a goal. Both have played even hockey in the plus-minus category as well, with both seeing time on special teams.
The Monarchs remain unbeaten in regulation at 4-0-3 for 11 points, second best in the AHL. Manchester plays at Worcester today at 7 p.m. It is the first meeting of the year for the teams, which have had some bad blood over the past few seasons.
The Monarchs will then host St. John’s Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (3 p.m.) at Verizon Wireless Arena.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.