Wisconsin's Justin Schultz and Minnesota's Zach Budish battle… (Janet Hostetter / Associated…)
The Ducks confirmed that highly prized prospect, defenseman Justin Schultz of Wisconsin, won’t be signing a contract with Anaheim by Saturday as he has told them he will complete his third year at Madison.
That comes as little surprise, but now the window is that much tighter for the Ducks. They have exclusive rights until June 1 to try to sign him. After that, other teams can jump into the fray and he could become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
The Ducks had not commented publicly on the matter until Thursday.
"Several members of our staff have had conversations with Justin over the last few years, where he has expressed a strong interest in being an Anaheim Duck," said Ducks General Manager Bob Murray. "We have all had the opportunity to get to know what a great person and player Justin is over the last few years. We are very excited about the possibility of him becoming an Anaheim Duck when he is ready to turn pro.
"We respect his decision to finish his third year of college and a fourth year if he so decides. If he does decide to sign with us before he graduates, we have a policy of providing whatever assistance is necessary to help our players graduate from college."
Translation: The Ducks still hope they can sign Schultz. They have sent a steady stream of team officials to visit him in person this season, including the retired Scott Niedermayer, one of the top defensemen of his generation. Niedermayer serves the Ducks in an advisory position.
The Ducks, who drafted Schultz in the second round in 2008, were in something of a difficult position since Schultz had not given a sense about the direction of his future plans. He is in the process of completing his junior year and complicating matters is looming NHL labor uncertainty this summer.
When Schultz did not sign with the Ducks immediately after the conclusion of Wisconsin’s hockey season, speculation had increased he would opt for the unrestricted free-agency route. He would be among the marquee targets this summer after the two biggest prizes, the Devils’ Zach Parise and Nashville’s Ryan Suter.
What could enable Schultz to strengthen his hand, in terms of free agency, was a loophole created because he had played an extra year of major junior hockey before going to Wisconsin.
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