2012 NHL Free Agency: Are The New York Rangers Targeting Justin Schultz?

DETROIT - APRIL 08: Justin Schultz #6 of the Wisconsin Badgers tries to keep the puck from Dan Ringwald #6 of the RIT Tigers on April 8, 2010 during the semifinals of the 2010 NCAA Frozen Four at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. Wisconsin defeated RIT 8-1. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Somewhat lost in the shuffle of the New York Rangers' 2012 season was the potential availability of Anaheim Ducks defensive prospect Justin Schultz. Schultz recently finished his junior year at the University of Wisconsin, and there were rumors circulating that he didn't want to sign with the Ducks when his season was over.

Schultz put those wheels in motion, opting out of school and giving the Ducks a 30-day window in which they hold his exclusive negotiating rights from the day he opted out. That was on Saturday.

It is widely accepted that Schultz does not intend to sign with the Ducks, and once his 30-day window has closed, if the Ducks don't manage to sign him or trade him to a team which he signs with, he becomes a free agent. There is also an interesting clause which allows Schultz to negotiate with teams before the July 1st free agency window opens, he just can't officially sign with his team of choice until July 1st.

Join me after the jump to see how the Rangers factor into this.

According to an article written by Larry Brooks back in March, the Rangers will be one of the teams courting the young offensive defenseman.

The Rangers will attempt to pump another resource through their Badgers Pipeline by getting in on the derby for Wisconsin junior defenseman Justin Schultz if the 43rd overall selection in the 2008 Entry Draft spurns Anaheim's offers and becomes a free agent on July 1, Slap Shots has learned.

Schultz, who will turn 22 on June 6, is a 6-foot-1, 185-pound defenseman much in the mold of Ryan McDonagh, but with a more developed offensive game. McDonagh and Derek Stepan each played the 2009-10 season with then-freshman Schultz at Wisconsin before turning pro with the Rangers.

Schultz, who scored 16 goals and added 28 assists for 44 points in 37 games for Wisconsin this season, is going to be one of the most sought after free agents on the market. The Rangers -- who were the victors of a situation like this last year when Glen Sather traded for Tim Erixon -- are always looking for young, talented defenseman; especially defenseman who show such a talent on the offensive side of the puck.

While it's unknown what Schultz would be looking for in a hockey team, it can be assumed the Rangers have a huge advantage since Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh are currently mainstays on the Rangers' roster. As Brooks said above, both were teammates with Schultz his freshman year.

McDonagh also gives Shultz an example of how the Rangers develop their defensive prospects, and how successful a player can be in John Tortorella's system right out of college (or at least within a year).

If the Rangers do land Schultz, it would be a two-year Entry Level Contract. From Brooks again:

Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, Schultz would be bound to sign a two-year Entry Level contract if he chooses to become a free agent. If he were to eschew free agency and sign with Anaheim before the end of the season, he would have only one year remaining on the Entry Level deal.

Since that article was written in March, quite a few things have happened in the Rangers' world. It's highly unlikely, however, that Sather wouldn't have interest in the young defenseman. With rumors swirling that the Rangers might use Michael Del Zotto as trade bait this offseason, it might make sense for the Rangers to try and bring in another offensive minded defenseman to play alongside Tim Erixon.

Or, the Rangers can keep all three, and evaluate who should stay and who should go at a later date. Either way, you can never have too many young defenseman on your roster.

Thoughts on this guys? Do you think the Rangers should go after him?

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