Theo Peckham: What Does The Future Hold?

Jonathan Willis
September 03 2012 11:17AM

Theo Peckham was one of the pleasant surprises of 2010-11. The long-time prospect finally established himself at the NHL level after two previous cameos, and got serious minutes on a terrible team – typically as Tom Gilbert’s partner. His physical play was the headline addition, but for a rookie tossed into tough minutes, he didn’t implode either.

Theo Peckham was one of the unpleasant surprises of 2011-12. The sophomore defenceman slipped from top-four minutes to a third-pairing role, then from a third-pairing role to the press box carousel (along with Cam Barker). His play was often terrible, his number of fighting majors dropped, and injuries badly hurt his season.

The two seasons, put together, raise a question in my mind: what is Peckham’s likely NHL ceiling? Could he play top-four minutes at some point? Could he be a reliable third-pairing guy? Or is he in significant danger of losing his spot on an NHL roster?

To try and give some guidance as to that question, I went back over Peckham’s last two seasons and – using the magic of hockey-reference.com – sorted him against comparable defencemen at the same age.

2011-12

We start with the most recent season, and we use the following criteria:

  • Age: Player must be between the age of 23 and 25 as of Feb. 1 (Peckham: 24)
  • Time on ice: Player must have seen between 861 and 961 minutes (Peckham: 911)
  • Penalty minutes: Player must have recorded more than 50 (Peckham: 80)
  • Shots: Player must have recorded less than 40 (Peckham: 25)
  • Points: Player must have recorded less than 10 (Peckham: 3)

Now, I acknowledge it’s not the widest net: defencemen, especially of the defensive variety, are hard to compare historically. It gets a little easier with advanced statistics, but they aren’t available going back years and years. Still, what we’re essentially doing is generating a list of offensively limited defencemen who took penalties and got a similar amount of ice-time at the same age.

Here’s the list:

In 1999-00, Jason Strudwick essentially ended up as the sixth defenceman for a below-average Vancouver team that ran into all sorts of injuries on its blue line. Like Peckham, size, physical play and a willingness to fight were strengths over his NHL career; mobility and offence were a little lower on the resume. At this point in his career, he’d played 185 NHL games; he still had nearly 500 more to play, largely as a third-pairing defensive defenceman.

In 2005-06, Rob Davison was the seventh defenceman for an excellent San Jose squad. Like Peckham, size, physical play and a willingness to fight were strengths over his NHL career; mobility and offence were not strengths. At this point in his career, he’d played 139 NHL games; he’s played 80 since and is currently plying his trade in Austria.

In 1998-99, Craig Rivet was a third-pairing defenceman for a lousy Montreal team. As with Peckham, size, physical play and a willingness to fight were strengths early in his career. However, mobility was also an asset early on and his career continued Rivet gained a reputation for being able to move the puck effectively as well. At this point in his career, he’d played 186 games in the majors; he would find himself just short of 1000 NHL games in the summer of 2011 – many of them spent as a top-four defender. Last season, he played in the ECHL.

In 2005-06, Andrew Alberts was the sixth defenceman for a lousy Boston team. The highlights on his resume were (repeat after me) size and physical play, and he also occasionally dropped the gloves. However, Alberts also had above average skating and offensive ability for a defensive defenceman – something he showed over a four-season college career. He’d played 73 NHL games at this point in his career; he’s now at north of 400 games played at the age of 31 and still has time left in the majors.

In 2008-09, Adam Pardy was a third-pairing guy for a pretty decent Calgary team. We’ll quote Kent Wilson’s take on his play at the time:

Pardy obviously doesn't have a very high ceiling. At 25 years old, we're probably closer to his peak than his floor. That said, I liked what I saw out of Adam last year - he's big, relatively mobile and doesn't panic with the puck (aside from one or two rookies errors which I assume will disappear with experience). I doubt he'll ever become a top 4 defender, but he could become one of those valuable bottom pairing guys who is cheap, but relatively reliable.

Pardy had played 60 games at the time; he’s now up to 183 and still in the NHL. On the other hand, he was also Mr. Healthy Scratch for the Stars last season, so how much time is left is a fair question.

2003-04 saw Brad Ference play third-pairing minutes for a terrible team in Phoenix. New Jersey picked him up coming out of the lockout, but his strengths were not the strengths of the “new NHL” and they stuck him in the minors. Ference played 63 NHL games in 2003-04; he’s appeared in just five since.

2010-11

I’m not going to do the same case-by-case basis on this list as I did for 2011-12, but I thought I would include it anyway for the sake of discussion.

Criteria were as follows:

  • Age: Player must be between the age of 22 and 24 as of Feb. 1 (Peckham: 23)
  • Time on ice: Player must have seen between 1120 and 1520 minutes (Peckham: 1320)
  • Penalty minutes: Player must have recorded more than 50 (Peckham: 198)
  • Shots: Player must have recorded 50 or less (Peckham: 41)
  • Points: Player must have recorded less than 20 (Peckham: 13)

The list:

One final note about that 2010-11 season, a point that got some attention at the time but not enough: Tom Gilbert’s ability likely obscured Peckham’s mistakes. I’ve never thought it a coincidence that Gilbert was criticized harshly for his work in 2010-11, or that Peckham was praised when both were on the same pairing; expectations were a lot higher for Gilbert than they were for Peckham.

Shot metrics – which closely mirror scoring chances – help tell the story:

  • When Tom Gilbert played without Peckham, the Oilers recorded 49.5% of Corsi events to the opposition’s 50.5%. In other words, they were close to break-even (no small feat on a team that terrible, particularly given the minutes Gilbert typically played).
  • When Gilbert and Peckham played together, the Oilers recorded 46.3% of Corsi events to the opposition’s 53.7%. They were playing tough minutes together, but the opposition ran the show.
  • When Theo Peckham played without Gilbert, the Oilers recorded 42.2% of Corsi events to the opposition’s 57.8%. Put another way: when Peckham played without Gilbert, the Oilers were flattened.

Conclusion

A Craig Rivet-like career is the gold standard on this list. Rivet came from the same family of defenders as players like Jason Smith and Steve Staios: rock-solid defensively, physical, good enough with the puck that he wasn’t lost when needing to handle it or make a pass, and fast enough to defend against speed.

I originally had hopes when the Oilers drafted Peckham – and particularly seeing him excel on some terrible AHL teams – that he might one day be a player like that. He was awfully raw and his skating was pretty bad early on – though it’s improved noticeably with time – but that ceiling still seemed possible.

It seems a lot less likely now. Watching Peckham play last year, it seemed like the progress he’d made getting on to the team in 2010-11 had reversed; that he was slower and having as much difficulty reacting to the play of scrubs as he had to better opposition a year prior. I found myself nodding reading Robin Brownlee’s piece on Peckham in mid-July, because it made sense.

Reading that piece again today, in the light of the data above, it almost feels to me like Peckham’s at something of a crossroads. If he can rebound back to his 2010-11 level – the level of a good end of roster option on a decent team (or, top-four on the 2010-11 Edmonton Oilers) than there’s no reason he can’t have a career. I doubt he’ll be a top four guy, but if he can be tough and physical while cutting down on lost assignments and bad penalties, then a long career is in the cards.

If he can’t? It’s a numbers game. The Oilers have eight defenders at the NHL level already, with guys like Klefbom and Marincin and Teubert en route. It’s a lot harder to break in with a new team once a player is in his mid-20’s than it is in his early-20’s. Brad Ference, the only guy to appear on both of the lists above, was probably a better player in his late-20’s than he was earlier in his career but despite getting lots of opinions (he went from Florida to Phoenix to New Jersey to Calgary to Detroit) he was never able to get back on to a major league roster.

Peckham needs to establish himself as a useful third pairing guy whenever NHL hockey kicks off again. Then he needs to do whatever it takes to hang on to that job. If he can’t do that, then it’s entirely possible that the bulk of his NHL career lies in the rearview mirror.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 David S
September 03 2012, 11:33AM
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http://www.modestmouse.com/photoblog/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/Modest_Mouse_-_No_Ones_First_And_Youre_Next.jpg

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#2 DieHard
September 03 2012, 11:45AM
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David S wrote:

http://www.modestmouse.com/photoblog/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/Modest_Mouse_-_No_Ones_First_And_Youre_Next.jpg

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#3 DieHard
September 03 2012, 11:47AM
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I hope he can step it up. I like him as 6-7 D-man. And he would come cheap which is what we will need.

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#4 Lowetide
September 03 2012, 11:56AM
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I think there are 3 things: one, most of the time a defenseman takes a downturn there's an injury or series of injuries involved. Second, he was (as Jon mentioned) without Gilbert this past season.

Finally, I think it was a Jason Gregor interview with Peckham in which Theo talked about looking forward to playing with coach Krueger because he wanted to be clear about his role. Reading between the lines, there may have been a disconnect.

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#5 David S
September 03 2012, 11:59AM
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D-men work as a pair. Theo is a basher. It seems he works well paired with a mover. If the Oilers can find him that sort of partner, we may well see him slot into a regular role. Problem is, our only mover is a guy we're hoping will be 80% of what he used to be.

Also, I'd be willing to bet he was hurt a whole lot more than any of us know last year - something I note this article hasn't taken into account.

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#6 madjam
September 03 2012, 12:04PM
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I believe he was drafted as a fighter/protecter for the future , not for his defensive abilities which were low to begin with . Doubt he will ever be a regular again with whats in the system now . Basically a call up that probably will remain at AHL level.

OFF TOPIC TRIVIA : How many hockey athletes have played in two or more different professional sports ? Gerry James and i believe Billy "The Kid" Cooper were two . Are there others , and any that might have played three or more ?

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#8 Lowetide
September 03 2012, 12:11PM
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Dave Winfield was drafted by mlb, nba, aba and nfl--even though he didn't play football in college! Three sports, 4 leagues. Not bad.

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#11 Lowetide
September 03 2012, 12:15PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Though it's hard to imagine Krueger going any easier on stupid penalties than Renney did.

For sure. I imagine the communication is don't lose position going after the big hit.

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#12 David S
September 03 2012, 12:37PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Second paragraph:

His play was often terrible, his number of fighting majors dropped, and injuries badly hurt his season.

Why didn't I highlight it more than that? Because the injuries were a late in the year thing - he took the Rick Nash hit in February and didn't miss any time on LTIR before that. Injuries played a role, but IMO didn't start the decline. He did have a concussion late last season which probably impacted summer training, etc., but it's hard to pin everything on that.

You're probably right, but for some reason I seem to recall him being involved in a fight earlier in the year after which he just wasn't the same.

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#14 David S
September 03 2012, 01:19PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Peckham had two fights last season.

The first was this one in October, going after Dale Weise after the latter hit Eberle; Peckham took some shots but seemed to have the edge in the fight.

The second was this one in November, where Peckham went after Dan Carcillo after Carcillo ran Hemsky in a 9-2 game. Peckham tried to fight while Carcillo just tried to hang on for dear life.

I have trouble picturing either as the problem.

NOW I remember. Peckham got his bell rung BEEG TIME by Horton last year. Here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tx_V5es4SJ4

The prevailing thought was lingering symptoms and a fear of getting clocked like that again really messed him up. From the interviews I've heard recently (Gregor?/Tencer?) he's pretty much admitted 2012 was a write-off season. He's been training really hard this summer in hopes of getting back to where he needs to be in order to contribute.

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#15 Dog Train
September 03 2012, 01:32PM
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The window of opportunity for a player like Peckham is small. This season is arguably as important for him as any other player on our roster. He will have some oppportunity in training camp and early in the season to prove himself. If he starts slow, then he could find himself in the press box or even in the minors. With all of the D talent that we will be graduating to the pros in the next few seasons, the time is now for Peckham. Otherwise, a journeyman AHL-NHL tweener career could be in his future.

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#16 Dan the Man
September 03 2012, 01:48PM
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Seems to me like conditioning might be an aspect of Theo's game that could use some work. I think he plays heavier than he should.

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#17 Will
September 03 2012, 02:35PM
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I agree that his conditioning had a bit to do with his drop in defense this year. It was well noted how he was just plain out of shape.

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#18 B S
September 03 2012, 03:14PM
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I'm hoping Peckham gets it together this season. He's exactly what the Oilers need (and have needed for the last two seasons). Hopefully Krueger will be less of a sissy than Renney, and will let him at it (Hordichuck seemed to think he was finally hearing that). The forwards core is too small and too fast to hold back with a bruiser so the best way to add some enforcement on the ice would seem to be adding a big, MEAN functional defenceman. Without sheriff Shanny over his shoulder Sutton can fill this role, but Renney seemed to have an aversion to violence (as a Hockey Coach for gods sake!) and would bench anyone who looked to stand up for a teammate.

Peckham is big, mean, and a decent 3rd pairing D-man when he's on his game, but expendable enough that the team doesn't suffer if he takes a 7 minute (2 and 5) break for busting up Sarich's face for stepping onto the same rink as RNH, or feeding a knuckle sandwich to Carcillo for even looking in Hall's direction. The Oilers don't need an enforcer, they need a bully to make up for their insecurities and make them feel better about themselves.

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#19 NewAgeSys
September 03 2012, 03:17PM
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Theo peckham is a piece of the puzzle every team needs,we especially need him to be ready to play this year considering the makeup of our roster.

Theo has the ability to keep himself in the moment and to focus on what he is asked to do by the coaches in a very pragmatic manner,he has been developeing the consistancy needed at the NHL level,more importantly I think Theo is coachable enough to learn his most effective place in a new system and accept it,role acceptance and embracement are very important intangibles,its important to know which turnip truck brought you to the market.

I see Theo as an important part of our system,his size,toughness,willingness,and developing consistancy along with his ability to undersand his role systemwise make him a perfect candidate to start the year here.

Theo can play the conventional conservative game AND fight in that order--and is very loyal and has excellent timeing when needed he simply steps in with the flow of the action he is not retaliatory he is reactionary,if you cheapshot or overhit an Oiler he is on you like white on rice before our man even hits the ice.We need one of him and I dont see anyone competeing with him in his category.

Coach Krueger and his system of choice will dictate how applicable Theos toolbox will or can be,and we still await a clear picture of that system.

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#20 Pouzar99
September 03 2012, 09:08PM
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I am also pessimistic about Theo, but he seems to be aware that he was in lousy shape last year and just generally lost. Sounds as though he is got himself in much better condition and realizes this will likely be his season of decision. So there is a chance and God knows that we could use the physicality he brought two seasons ago. If he could be a nasty, somewhat more controlled 3rd pairing D man it would be a great Christmas present, as that is when the season will likely start, if there is one.

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#21 OilLeak
September 04 2012, 02:12AM
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NewAgeSys wrote:

Theo peckham is a piece of the puzzle every team needs,we especially need him to be ready to play this year considering the makeup of our roster.

Theo has the ability to keep himself in the moment and to focus on what he is asked to do by the coaches in a very pragmatic manner,he has been developeing the consistancy needed at the NHL level,more importantly I think Theo is coachable enough to learn his most effective place in a new system and accept it,role acceptance and embracement are very important intangibles,its important to know which turnip truck brought you to the market.

I see Theo as an important part of our system,his size,toughness,willingness,and developing consistancy along with his ability to undersand his role systemwise make him a perfect candidate to start the year here.

Theo can play the conventional conservative game AND fight in that order--and is very loyal and has excellent timeing when needed he simply steps in with the flow of the action he is not retaliatory he is reactionary,if you cheapshot or overhit an Oiler he is on you like white on rice before our man even hits the ice.We need one of him and I dont see anyone competeing with him in his category.

Coach Krueger and his system of choice will dictate how applicable Theos toolbox will or can be,and we still await a clear picture of that system.

I have a tough time taking you seriously every time you mention "system" in your posts. Also, you ramble on in all your posts without ever mentioning anything of substance.

Why do the Oilers need a player like Peckham, a player with limited upside, poor conditioning, and poor defensive ability. This player's ceiling is 3rd pairing and has shown nothing in the NHL so far. Why waste good partners on Peckham when there are other more capable defenseman to do the job?

Peckham has already been given too much rope and if he wasn't big and physical he would have never made it past the AHL.

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#22 Pucker
September 04 2012, 04:23PM
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I like Peckham. I think a lot of his upturn season was getting consistant ice time and the confidence the coach showed in him . . . like not being benched every time he took a bad penalty. . Reduced ice time, shorter leash with Sutton around and maybe some nagging injuries (and probably some attitude) may have contributed to a poor showing last year.

I hope he brings his game up and provides a positive contribution next season. Maybe he would be a good partner with Nick Schultz. I like his touchness and I like that he'll stand up for his team mates.

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#23 WinterNightSky
September 04 2012, 08:28PM
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The man has no hands! He's a capable fighter. where you need only beat someone with the ends of your arms. And a good penalty killer, where you need only whack the puck to the other end of the ice. But he's lost with the puck. As much as he needs to not give up 4-on-1s to go punch someone, he also needs to figure out how to begin the offence. If he can do those two things, we have ourselves a player.

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