Jeff Schultz is "Mr. Nasty"
One thing I learned from hanging around the 2006 Wizards and the 2007 Redskins: winning teams create many excellent nicknames. And so it is with the Capitals, who gathered around the television in their dressing room on Sunday as analyst Pierre McGuire described Jeff Schultz as both big and nasty.
"We followed the big part," said Eric Fehr, discussing his 6-foot-6 roommate on the road. "But we didn't really see the nasty."
And thus was born "Mr. Nasty," a nickname that spread quicker than an astronaut costume in Chinatown.
"A whole lot of nasty, that's the quote," said Mike Knuble, who saw the broadcast live.
"Oh yeah, whole lot of nasty," Matt Bradley deadpanned. "He's a nasty guy, man."
"He's some kind of nasty," Fehr agreed.
"We think it's a great nickname," said Brooks Laich, who seems to be a prime dispenser of nicknames. "The boys like to have fun, so they run with it."
(Laich also calls Schultz "Tackleberry," after the Police Academy character, which is pretty excellent. "He's got a lot of nicknames, that guy," Laich said of Schultz. "But all the nicknames are from recognition that he's doing very good things.")
Ask Schultz about his nastiness, and he'll sort of defer. He's always been a big kid--he was 6-3 or 6-4 entering high school, where he was recruited by the basketball coach--and he said hockey coaches sometimes have expected a physical style merely because of his body type. (He's both the tallest and heaviest defenseman on the Caps' roster.)
"People seem to think that the big guy's supposed to be the big mean guy out there and stuff like that," Schultz said this week. "That's not the type of person I am. I just don't have that mean streak like an Ersk out there, not to go out and fight and stuff like that."
So instead he just plays like Jeff Schultz, getting in the way, staying solid on the penalty kill, moving the puck to his forwards, and limiting his mistakes. He's third among Caps defenders in ice time and only sixth in hits, but he's tied for the team lead in blocked shots and no one else is close. One teammate told me a great Schultz game is the kind where you never notice him, and several offered praise as understated as Schultz's game.
"Consistent, just does his job," Fehr said. "He doesn't get a lot of attention for what he does, but he's been doing a great job."
"Steady, stay at home defenseman, good on penalty kill," Erskine said.
"On the ice he's just all about business,' Tom Poti said. "He goes about his job and he does it very well."
"He's a quiet guy, but he's been playing really well this year," Bradley said. "He's not a hugely physical player, that's not his game. He's a great positional guy, good stick, smart player, but when you're that big and you get in guys' way, you can...get in guys' way," Bradley finished.
"He's very sound positionally, he's got a good stick," Laich said. "And he'll frustrate teams maybe not in a physical way but just with his position, where he's always between you and the net."
That's not always what fans want, and there are few players on the Caps who have aroused as much disagreement among the fan base. Of course, Schultz recently ascended to the league lead in plus-minus, earning a bit more press and another Laich nickname: "Mr. Plus-Minus." This made Fehr happy, since he had been telling his roommate he wanted to see "his big mug" on NHL.com; Schultz, meantime, pleaded ignorance.
"I knew it was climbing," he said of his plus-minus. "Then the guys saw it on TV and they started bugging me, because I had no idea. I didn't know I was the leader."
He's since been tied by Alex Ovechkin at +27, a fact Schultz said he hasn't discussed with his captain. In fact, he doesn't discuss a lot--"he's a really good roommate; he just sits there and watches TV," Fehr joked--which also sort of fits in with the way he plays.
"Just kind of a quiet, keep to myself kind of guy," Schultz said of himself. "Bruce said it's not like he expects me to go out there and fight and stuff. Just go out there and finish my checks and be strong in front of the net. Make the guys we're playing against know that you're out there, and when they do touch the puck you're gonna run them into the boards or make them feel it."
Which brings us back to the Mr. Nasty thing. With the birth of a new nickname, and with a reputation that's now growing, a face that's appeared on NHL.com's leaders page and kind words from national analysts, is there nastiness to be found? Like, a little?
"I mean, it's tough to define what nasty is," Bradley said. "Definitely he's a presence out there."
"Is he what you'd call typically nasty?" asked Mike Knuble. "No, but he's been an effective defender."
"Any time you see a guy that's 6-6 you expect him to be running guys through the glass and fighting everybody out there on the ice, and that's just not his game," Poti said. "That's not what brought him to the NHL and that's not what would keep him here, so you have to play to your strengths. Whether you're an offensive guy or a defensive guy or just a positionally sound guy, you've got to do what got you here, and he's been doing that and doing it very well."
"That nasty streak, you can't really instill in guys," Laich said. "To go out and just punch somebody in the face or stick somebody all the time, I think that's kind of something you're born with or you're not."
"He's got the size and weight," Erskine said, then laughed. "He's got to get nasty, I guess."
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