Thank the hockey gods for Ryan Whitney if you’re an Edmonton Oilers fan.
Just to refresh, Whitney was tied for ninth in points by NHL defensemen with 10 heading into the team’s Tuesday game with Carolina and tied for first amongst all Oilers. As for workload, try fifth in the league at nearly 26:00 minutes per game. If he hadn’t decided he’d had enough of Detroit’s Brad Stuart last Friday and received a two and a 10 for starting a fight five minutes before the second stanza ended, his minutes-per-game would be higher.
Those are the kinds of numbers Oilers fans haven’t seen since Chris Pronger bolted town in 2006.
The 27-year-old Whitney is an interesting case; lots of promise, but the recipient of little patience. The fifth overall choice by Pittsburgh in 2002 was the Penguins’ golden boy not long after the lockout. Sidney Crosby he was not, but the heir apparent to Sergei Gonchar on the blueline he was. His 59 points in 2006-07 placed him sixth in the NHL, ahead, even, of Mr. Pronger, a Cup winner with Anaheim that season.
But Whitney’s points total fell the next two seasons, as did his reputation. He became known as an offense-only guy, one whose star was fading. A foot injury took its toll and Whitney was shipped from Pittsburgh to Anaheim for plugger (now over-his-head top-liner) Chris Kunitz and prospect Eric Tangradi at the 2009 trade deadline; he then made his way to your Oilers at last season’s deadline for D-man Lubomir Visnovsky – who costs $1.3-million more on the cap and is seven years older.
But enough about the past. Back to what Whitney’s been doing lately. No Oiler has played more and Whitney has more power play and even-strength time on ice than any other; Tom Gilbert’s two more seconds per game shorthanded is the only thing keeping Whitney from a clean sweep in the TOI categories.
And while Whitney isn’t a physical guy he gets dirty, only Gilbert has more blocked shots. Takeaways? He’s tied for the team lead among defensemen. And while he leads all Oilers in giveaways, that’s what happens when you’re a puck-carrier/mover; just ask reigning Norris Trophy-winner Duncan Keith, or Evgeni Malkin, or any of the other 18 players around the league who’ve given the puck away more often.
While Whitney isn’t perfect, he's doing what he can - playing a strong offensive game, logging a lot of minutes and performing as well as anyone would have expected defensively. He’s been the bright spot early in this ‘Season of the Rookies.’
This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.