Monday, September 12, 2011

Player Profile - Ryan Whitney

If you were to ask both organizations about the trade made between the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers back on the 3rd of March in 2010, that saw Lubomir Visnovsky and Ryan Whitney switch clubs, you would be hard pressed to find anyone second guessing their decision to go ahead with the blockbuster move. 

In Visnovsky, the Ducks received the power play quarterback they were searching for to replace recently departed Chris Pronger and the soon to be retired Scott Niedermayer. The fact that Visnovsky has scored 81 pts in 97 games since going to Anaheim clearly demonstrates that the Ducks aquired exactly the type of player they were looking for.

On the other hand, the Oilers were looking to shed some salary while getting younger on the backend and moving Visnovsky for Whitney accomplished just that. They were hoping Whitney could find his game that he displayed as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins but was unable to achieve with the Ducks during parts of two seasons. To say that Edmonton received the old Ryan Whitney from his Pittsburgh days would not be true. In fact, I would say the player they received is even better!

I do not think anyone within the organization believed they would be getting a player, that in very short order has become the Oilers most important skater. Whitney is not only a minute eater that plays in all situations but upon his arrival he instantly became one of the teams leaders. He is only 28 years old and was very aware of the type of situation he was coming to in Edmonton. A very young but talented group that back in March of 2010 was self destructing with a veteran core that badly needed a change of address. Ryan took it upon himself, after some less then stellar efforts by the club, to flat out question the effort of "some guys" and that he was "embarrassed" with how the team was playing. That from a guy who had , at the time, been in the organization less then one month. He has never pulled punches or made excuses when the team or he has played poorly. Whitney made it very clear from the outset that he was happy coming to Edmonton and wanted to become an important part of the teams rebuild. He has accomplished that while being a stabilizing presence on and off the ice for the young core group in Edmonton.

On the ice, he has shown the ability to take on a larger role and much more responsibility then was asked of him in Anaheim. While he does many things well, his ability to move the puck up ice, especially via the stretch pass, is his greatest asset. Almost from the get go, he has also displayed a nastiness to his game which is an element that the Oilers were desperately lacking...especially on the backend. It is no coincidence that many of the Oilers defencemen have played their best hockey when paired with Whitney. Be it vets like Tom Gilbert who looked lost during the 2009-1010 season or young prospects like Jeff Petry.  To say Gilbert struggled during the 2009-10 campaign is an understatement and yet as soon as Whitney arrived and was paired with him, his game changed overnight. He looked more comfortable and relaxed on the ice and was able to play his game again...which was something many Oiler fans thought would never happen again.

I would be surprised if Whitney isn't paired up with newly acquired defenceman Cam Barker for the coming season. Barker is coming off a tough year with the Minnesota Wild where his game slipped and because of it was given less and less opportunity to work through his troubles. In Edmonton, it has become obvious that any defenceman that needs to simplify his game and find his way, needs to be playing with Ryan Whitney. With Whitney's strong play in all areas of the ice, it will take a load of pressure of Barker and allow him to locate his game. Very much like Whitney, Barker wasn't a good fit in his last NHL stop but is only two seasons removed from being a 40 point player with Chicago. Playing regularly with Whitney, look for Barker to not only have a bounce back season but flourish with his new partner and club.

In his short time as an Edmonton Oiler, Ryan Whitney has shown to be the type of player that every organization needs. His overall game seems to be better then at any other point in his NHL career but it is his ability to make his teammates better players that is his greatest assest to this club. With further growing pains to follow for this organization a player like Whitney is just what was needed for the development process to run smoothly.

Without a doubt, the trade Steve Tambellini was able to pull the trigger on back on March 3rd, 2010 has not only been the best trade he has made to date as the Oilers is also the most important move the club has made under his tenure.

2011-2012 Prediction:   8 G - 37 A - 45 Pts

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