Heading into the 2011-2012 campaign you could pretty much jot down the Edmonton Oilers starting six blueliners. Barring a pre-season trade or injury, it looks like the six will be:
- Ryan Whitney
- Cam Barker
- Tom Gilbert
- Ladislav Smid
- Theo Peckham
- Andy Sutton
Outside of Tom Gilbert, they all have had health concerns at times during their careers and even Gilbert started to show signs of a wonky back last season. Be it because they are somewhat injury prone or just bad luck, injuries always seem to creep into the equation. That being the case, it would come as no surprise to see the number seven and eight D men on the Oilers depth chart getting into a number of games this season. The battle for that number seven spot will likely come down to Taylor Chorney and Jeff Petry.
In Jeff Petry, you have a player that, for some time, was the lone prospect on the backend in the organization. Notice the word "was" because that is no longer the case. With the addition of many defencemen via trade and entry draft, Edmonton's pool of young prospects on the blueline have improved drastically. While they still seem to be missing that true number one defenceman in their prospect cupboard, they definitely are starting to stock pile quality talent on the backend. Petry does seem destined to be part of the rebuild but does having him in the seven hole for the coming season make sense? The plan was supposed to be for Petry to play all of last season in Oklahoma and let his game develop further in the AHL but that did not occur. With all the injuries the Oilers endured, Petry ended up playing 35 games with the big club and 41 with the Barons. At times he looked very good, while on other occasions he looked in way over his head. With the signings and trades the organization made to bulk up the blueline for the coming season, I feel the plan is for Petry to start the season with the Barons. He should get monster minutes in all situations and quarterback the power play for Oklahoma. He will get that opportunity to work on his game and hopefully make it very difficult for the club to not make room for him in their top six.
Taylor Chorney is in a somewhat different situation when it comes to his career. He too was once considered a good prospect on the backend. Drafted back in 2005 with the 36th pick overall, Chorney has never lived up to the billing that was thrust upon him by the organization and fans alike. He has never developed into a player that will put points up on the board nor has he turned himself into that solid stay at home guy that all teams need to be a competitive club. Instead, he has found a home somewhere in between and in today's NHL that typically makes you a depth guy at best. To his credit, after a disastrous debut in 2009 -2010 with the Oilers, he looked like a completely different player in the 12 games he saw action in last season. In his rookie campaign, he was -21 in 42 games and looked to be in so over his head that many, including myself, wondered if this kid should ever see NHL ice again. Then you consider how bad and dysfunctional that club was and you have to cut Chorney some slack. While still having issues with his defensive zone coverage and adjusting to the speed and physical aspect of the game at this level, Chorney looked a lot more comfortable in his skin in his second go round. He was successful at slowing the game down and made the right decision out on the ice more often then not. I can not see Chorney turning into anything more then a depth NHL defenceman at any point in his career but is that not exactly what this club is looking for? Have someone fill that seven spot and be a good team guy...sounds like a perfect fit for Taylor Chorney.
As an organization, the Edmonton Oilers must ensure that Jeff Petry is allowed time to develop his game during the coming season, wherever that might be. While I do think Petry will be part of the Oilers future, it would not surprise me at all if the young man is used as a chip in a package to land a top flight defender in the near future. There is no benefit in having him sit in the press box in Edmonton when he could be playing a ton down on the farm and they have a guy like Taylor Chorney to fill that role. In all honesty, if an injury occurs, Petry could still be that number seven guy on the depth chart...he would just be doing it as a member of the Oklahoma City Barons instead of the Edmonton Oilers.