June 17 2012 09:11AM
Playing defense is a tough damn job, with risk of injury, exposure and public humiliation on every sortie. The development of a successful defenseman should be timed by sundial, and there's an enormous risk in dealing away a defenseman during his development time. Trade him too soon and he haunts you for a decade.
In the beginning, the Edmonton Oilers liked Theo Peckham very much. They actually traded up for him at the 2006 entry draft, sending the 80th overall pick and the 200th overall pick in the 2006 entry draft to move up 5 slots and take the roughouse defender from Richmond Hill, Ontario at 75th overall in 2006.
Peckham's development through junior and into pro hockey progressed quickly enough for us to recognize him as a legit NHL prospect. The Oilers loved his size, grit, mean streak and a few months after he turned pro there were good arrows:
- Springfield coach Jeff Truitt, winter 2008: “Theo’s still a young player, but he shows a well-rounded game. He’s physical, a guy his team can count on. He’s relied upon for penalty-killing and the power play. On the power play, he has a knack for getting a shot through traffic.”
Peckham played a game with the big club in 08-09, 15 the following year and was at the 15 game mark in the 09-10 season when Peckham took a hit from Sharks defender Doug Murray (who took a penalty on the play) in their March 22nd game. We've talked many times about defensemen and injury; it impacts their effectiveness and shortens their careers. A player like Peckham--who I've never seen back down from a challenge--is doubly vulnerable to injury.
ROOKIE MAKES THE GRADE
In 10-11, the Oilers not only played Peckham at the NHL level, but they played him a lot with Tom Gilbert and against tougher than expected competition. Peckham and Gilbert played 48% of their seasons together in 10-11 and they also had the toughest zone start available. For a rookie to face those minutes--even with a quality veteran like Gilbert--and emerge with a CorsiRel or -6 and a plus minus of -5 is worthy of notice. Even if we add luck into the equation, and he certainly got a push from playing with Gilbert, there were some things to build on.
This past season was not successful. He took a puck to the face in early February and was used sparingly after that; he also suffered another concussion (his 2nd in two years) toward the end of the season. However, injury wasn't the only problem.
In an article written just before the trade deadline, Jonathan Willis gave a nice summary of the situation at that time:
Peckham has some positives. He’s a ruffian, adding the physical edge so many teams are looking for to any lineup. He can kill penalties. However, he’s also a bottom-pairing guy on one of the weakest teams in the league, a player with minimal puck skills at the NHL level and a guy that hasn’t shown the ability to shut down his opposition – despite the fact he usually draws weak opponents and starts more in the offensive zone than most Oilers. Beyond that, he takes penalties roughly three times as often as he draws them.
That's about where Peckham was at that time and about where he is today. The Oilers have to make a decision on Peckham this summer; trade him away, qualify him and then sign him and include Peckham as part of the solution moving forward, or walk away from the qualifier.
WHAT TO DO?
I think the best plan is to qualify Peckham, sign him and give him at least another year to cut back on the penalties, improve his positioning and find those calm feet required for the position. He is 24 years old, the Oilers have invested 156 NHL games (and much of that on the Gilbert pairing) to a young man with many of the things this club lacks: a mean streak, toughness, a man in every battle.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Defense is a bloody tough position. If NHL teams had the option (and they did in the original 6) I imagine we'd see a lot of 28-year old rookies who spent close to a decade learning the trade in the AHL. Modern teams don't have that luxury, and the Oilers can't afford to be wrong on Peckham.
Flush him? Sure. But you better be right, and we should have no doubts about whether or not he'd get a contract from another NHL team. Theo Peckham had a tough year, battled injury and I think coach Renney likely tired of the penalties and the positioning. NHL history is crowded with men who were in Peckham's position today and then went on to play a decade of effective defense. It is not a position that lends itself to straight line progress or performance.
Theo Peckham is worthy of another contract, because the story is still unfolding.