Nick Schultz, Philadelphia Flyers

Former Flyer Nick Schultz Discusses Team’s Present, Future

It’s been almost seven years since Nick Schultz skated in his 1,069th and final NHL game. The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native is most known for his time with the Minnesota Wild. After all, he was the franchise’s second pick in their inaugural NHL Draft in 2000, once served as team captain, and still sits third in the franchise’s all-time games played list, dressing for 743 games in 10 seasons.

However, Schultz has now been with the Flyers organization for almost as long. After playing 189 games across three seasons with the Orange and Black, he and his family never left the Philadelphia area. In June 2019, the Flyers brought him back into the fold as a player development coach. Last summer, he was promoted to assistant director of player development.

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The Hockey Writers caught up with Schultz recently, getting his thoughts on everything from life after a 15-year NHL career to his work in player development to his feelings on the 2023-24 Flyers.

Post-Playing Days

The adjustment period from going to the rigidity of playing a professional sport to stepping out of the spotlight can be tough for some athletes.

“I think probably more so the first couple years and definitely the next year like you’re when you’re just starting out, I think a little bit more,” Schultz said. “But I was fortunate enough. I think with my son playing himself; we get a chance to coach him and his team and stuff and do the player home and stuff for Flyers that have been good. So you’re kind of still involved in the game, which is helpful.”

Schultz’s son, Jake, is a 16-year-old playing for St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia and the Flyers Elite 16UAAA teams. Though Schultz misses the playing side, being able to spend more time with Jake and his two daughters has been special.

“It’s tough when you’re playing it’s hard. You’re not around a lot. You’re traveling lots with a team and stuff,” Schultz said. “So it’s kind of nice [to be around more]. I was fortunate. We had our kids at a young enough age. You know, when I retired, I still had plenty of time to, you know, to help out, and he was at a good age to be able to get on the ice with him and his team and help out, you know, himself and his group of friends and teammates and stuff. So it’s been fun.”

Nick Schultz with the Minnesota Wild (Source: XGeorge, Wikipedia Commons)

Schultz’s NHL journey took him to four different stops. After starting with the Wild in 2001-02, he remained in Minnesota until the 2012 Trade Deadline, when he was sent to his hometown Edmonton Oilers. Two years later, the Columbus Blue Jackets added him at the 2014 Deadline to improve their defensive depth in a breakout season. He hit free agency for the first time after that season, signing a one-year deal with the Flyers before inking a two-year extension in January 2015.

“Got a big place in our heart for [Minnesota], just being drafted there and playing there for so long, so I always kind of keep tabs on there… Edmonton would be the team I cheered for growing up, you know, getting a chance to keep our eye on them and root for them [is nice]. But you know, the biggest thing is, most of my attention is on the Flyers,” Schultz said.

Player Development Work

The NHL is in a much different place than it was when Schultz was drafted over two decades ago. He became a full-time NHLer in his draft-plus-two season, something not many second-round picks do in a day where teams are cognizant about not rushing prospects (especially defensemen). And in his eyes, there’s more of an effort made by teams to support their prospects all over the map.

“It’s good to kind of, you know, have some ex-players involved in these player development roles just to help with young prospects when they’re drafted, kind of different from when I was drafted in 2000, where teams didn’t really have players in these positions,” Schultz said.

Perhaps the biggest difference from the start of Schultz’s playing days is the presence of the salary cap. There have been a lot of changes caused by the cap over the years, which emphasizes the importance of drafting and developing homegrown talent.

Nick Schultz (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“In a salary cap era, it’s so important to develop your players, draft well and develop them. So it’s important for us to work with these guys in junior, in college, and then when they get to the American Hockey League level, just to try to get them to advance and ultimately be an NHL player one day,” Schultz said. “It’s a fun role to specialize and individualize each guy and what they need to work on to get better and get to that next level.”

The majority of Schultz’s work is with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, who have a couple of blueliners the Flyers have high hopes for in Emil Andrae and Ronnie Attard. Sometimes, Schultz goes on the road to meet with prospects, too. He’s also worked with former teammates and opponents such as Ian Laperriere (Phantoms head coach), Jason Smith (Phantoms assistant coach), and Samuel Morin (Flyers player development coach).

“[We] communicate with [prospects’] coaches and how they’re doing and how they’re playing and stuff, but obviously when we get them to Lehigh, we [get] a little more hands-on and get a chance to work with them and develop their game to be ready for the NHL,” Schultz said.

What It Takes to Thrive as an Underdog

The story of the Flyers this season has been well-documented. Projected by most to be one of the worst teams in the league at the start of the season, the team has come together to be one of the NHL’s biggest surprises (from ‘Philadelphia Flyers 2023-24 season preview: Playoff chances, projected points, roster rankings,’ The Athletic, Sept. 22, 2023). Entering Sunday, the Flyers have a five-point cushion on the third divisional playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division (although the four teams within striking distance do have games in hand).

“Having the veteran leaders come back in [Sean Couturier] and Cam [Atkinson] and those guys and some of those other young players taking the next step, and I think, you know, the big thing is [John] Tortorella has the guys playing hard and buying in there, you know, putting their body on the line blocking shots, they’re committed, they believe in the system they’re playing,” Schultz said.

As a player, Schultz has plenty of experience being on teams that dramatically exceeded expectations. The 2015-16 Flyers were in a somewhat similar spot as this year’s group, with then-general manager Ron Hextall in the early stages of a much-needed retool that saw the team focusing on the future. That didn’t stop them from dramatically making the playoffs, though. Schultz was a deadline pickup by the 2013-14 Blue Jackets, playing in two playoff games for the first team in Columbus history to win a game in the postseason, pushing a star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins roster harder than most expected.

Nick Schultz
Nick Schultz, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

But the most obvious callback to Schultz’s playing days is the 2002-03 Wild. After finishing below 75 points in their first two years of existence, Minnesota racked up 95 to make the playoffs, then won two Game 7s to reach the franchise’s first (and so far only) conference final. Good news for Flyers fans: Schultz sees similarities between the underrated teams he played on and the one taking the ice at the Wells Fargo Center this season.

“I think the big thing is just kind of believing in yourself and the system that you play, I think is important. I know that ’03 we had in Minnesota was, you know, just a few years in, you know, [we were an] expansion team, so not everyone really thought much of us. But we had to play a certain way to be competitive and be in games, and we were well coached [by Jacques Lemaire],” Schultz said. I think that’s you know, pretty similar to the Flyers right now.”

It’s also been rewarding for Schultz to see some of the prospects he’s worked with in Lehigh Valley blossom as full-time members of the Flyers.

“Having the NHL team back on track this year and playing well has been fun, and you know, it’s exciting [for] us, working with the prospects, trying to get the next guy ready to step in like Tyson Foerster, Egor Zamula, Cam York,” Schultz said.

Wrapping Up

Schultz seems right at home in his fifth season working in Philadelphia’s player development staff. The Flyers have several exciting prospects, such as Matvei Michkov and Oliver Bonk, on the way, so the work of Schultz and the rest of the organization’s coaches will be paramount in getting the team back to contention (from ‘PHLY’s Top 20 Philadelphia Flyers prospects list — Winter 2024 edition,’ PHLY Sports, Feb. 20, 2024). As both a coach and a father for young hockey talent, Schultz is enjoying his post-playing days.

Related: Sean Couturier Named Flyers’ 20th Captain

“A lot of guys enjoy being around [hockey], and if it’s with, you know, kids of theirs playing or just helping out with the younger generation stuff, it makes it enjoyable,” he said.

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