CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP — Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz returned to the ice Saturday for the first time since fracturing his left leg on Oct. 13 against Montreal. Pittsburgh Hockey Now was early to practice and reporter Shelly Anderson captured this video, as Schultz skated in a windbreaker and warm-up clothes.
“It’s a big step that he’s back on the ice,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “I know he’s excited. It’s been a long time for him. These guys, they’re built to be hockey players. They want to be on the ice every day. When you can’t, it’s tough. Justin’s gone through an extended period of rehab here, so for him to get back on the ice, I know he’s real excited.
“Certainly, we’re excited because it’s a big step as far as his return to play. Obviously, the next step would be getting him involved with our skills coach and then inevitably getting back involved in practice with the team before he is fully prepared to participate in games.”
Schultz is a key member of the Penguins defense which has been a patchwork since his injury. At least four Penguins defensemen, including Jamie Oleksiak, Jack Johnson, Jamie Oleksiak, and Juuso Riikola have filled Schultz’ spot as the second-pairing right side. However, unlike Schultz, none are right-handed.
Schultz had four assists in the first four games of the season before suffering the injury. In 2016-17, his first full season with the Penguins, Schultz registered 51 points (12g, 39a). The 28-year-old defenseman who was acquired from Edmonton at the trade deadline in 2016, had only 27 points (4g, 23a) last season and was anxious for a rebound year.
The Penguins timeline for Schultz return has generally been stated as February. He has missed 36 games and counting.
“He’s had an amazing attitude the whole time,” team captain Sidney Crosby said. “He comes in here and works hard. You can tell he’s happy to be around the guys. It’s tough when you’re hurt, not practicing with the guys (or) traveling, things like that. Just to be around a little bit more has been good, and it’s been great for us to see him and to know that he’s out there (on the ice). That’s a good step. He’s progressing and things are going well. That’s all you can ask for.”
In the summer of 2016, Schultz signed a three-year deal with an average annual value of $5.5 million. Last season, he often ran the Penguins top power-play unit ahead of Kris Letang. The Penguins set a franchise mark with a 26.2 percent efficiency.