A very interesting story is beginning to develop out west. The Anaheim Ducks top prospect, defenseman Justin Schultz, has been the best blueliner in college for the past two seasons. We’re talking about a 6’2 well-rounded defenseman with strong skating ability, slick passing ability, a very good point shot and a boatload of upside. During his age 20 and 21 years in the NCAA, he’s scored 34 goals and 91 points in 78 games played for Wisconsin.  There’s the potential here for a future top pairing defenseman. Remember the Gardiner-Lupul trade last season? Schultz was a big reason that trade happened because the Ducks believed (and they may be right) that Justin was the better of the two talented young blueliners. Now here’s the thing: he has not yet signed with the Ducks and is due to become a league-wide free agent this coming summer.

So where does that put the Maple Leafs? You better believe they should and will make a tremendous push for Schultz’s services.  Schenn brings the defense and Gardiner brings the offense, but Schultz is one of those true bluechip two-way blueliners. Justin is NHL ready and could probably slide comfortably into top 4 minutes next season ala Jake Gardiner. If Schultz were going in this year’s draft, I’d put him right there at about 8th – 10th overall. We’re likely looking at a two-year entry level contract with maximum bonuses (see Tyler Bozak’s 1 year deal). That could be as high as $3.75 million so some accommodations would have to be made.

After the Ducks traded away Gardiner in February 2011, GM Bob Murray reportedly made a strong push to bring Schultz over to the NHL this past summer but was rebuffed. And now it’s happening again. Now here’s where things get really interesting. Schultz’s defensive partner in Wisconsin? Yeah – that would be Jake Gardiner. I’m guessing both of them thought it would’ve been pretty neat to carry on their friendship and play together at the NHL level as well. Now Jake, it’s time to give your old buddy a call and see if he still wants to make that happen.

If it does, that Lupul-Gardiner trade could very well be the defining trade of the next decade for the Toronto Maple Leafs.