I’m not old enough to have a real grasp of hockey history the way people like Lowetide and Bruce McCurdy do. One thing I do know is that ex-Oiler and ex-Shark Ray Whitney has his own special place in it.
Ray Whitney has never really received the credit he deserves, and that’s a trend that started early.
In Whitney’s draft year, he played for Spokane in the WHL, with one of the best prospects in all of hockey: Pat Falloon (another ex-Shark and ex-Oiler). Falloon wasn’t eligible to be drafted until the next season but he was a great prospect that year anyway – he scored 60 goals and added 64 assists in 71 games. Whitney wasn’t far behind, either, scoring 57 times and finishing with 113 points. With another future NHL’er (Travis Green) traded away, the next leading scorer on that Spokane team was Steve Junker. He finished the year with less points than Whitney had goals.
Whitney wasn’t drafted. Scott Scissons, who was a few inches taller, a few months older, and a lesser player in every offensive category, went sixth overall. The Oilers’ first round pick that year was Scott Allison, a 6’4” kid around the same age and in the same league who had 38 points that year. He never played an NHL game (and neither did any of the Oilers’ 11 other picks that year).
The whole league passed on Whitney that year.
A year later, Whitney surpassed even his previous level of performance, scoring 185 points for Spokane. Falloon had 138 points that season; the third-ranked forward scored 90. San Jose took Falloon with their first pick, second overall. They took Whitney with their first pick in the second round.
There was a ton of talent available that year – Lindros went first overall, Forsberg, Naslund, Palffy, Kovlaev and Nylander all got selected. Only Kovalev has more points in his NHL career than Ray Whitney does, and Whitney’s closing the gap – with 60 points in 66 games this year, he still clearly has gas in the tank even at the age of 39. Thirty-nine points would put him over the top.
Whitney had a pretty nice professional debut after being drafted – over the next two seasons he’d rack up the points at the IHL level while Falloon was busy going minus-57 for the Sharks. He’d go on to play a few years in San Jose, picking up points but failing to win hearts, and in 1996-97 the Sharks sent him to the minors. He’d play just a dozen games in the NHL that year, recording two assists. At the age of 24, Whitney had burned through his first organization. The Oilers signed him as a free agent that summer.
Whitney played nine games with the Oilers, but couldn’t get the bounces – he fired 19 shots but scored just one goal. The Oilers waived him, and the still-new Florida Panthers picked him up. The percentages turned around, and Whitney scored 32 goals on 156 shots (20.9% shooting percentage). Whitney would rack up the points as a Panther, and has been an NHL’er ever since, though he’s continued his nomadic career, playing for Columbus, Detroit, Carolina, and Phoenix.
Things changed for Whitney in Carolina. He won the Stanley Cup with the team in 2006 – beating out his hometown Oilers – finishing behind just Eric Staal on that team in post-season scoring. He spent half a decade with the ‘Canes, and started to earn the respect in his 30’s that had eluded him early in his career. This year, as he closes in on his 40th birthday, the Coyotes decided he was too pivotal to their playoff hopes to even ask him to waive his no-trade clause – despite rumoured interest from several teams, including contenders like Boston, New York, and his old team in San Jose.
Today, the Sharks are fighting for their playoff lives. They sit in eighth in the West, two points back of Phoenix. Whitney, the Coyotes leading scorer, has undoubtedly had some hand in that. Passed over by every team in the draft, given up on by San Jose, Edmonton, and eventually Florida too, Whitney can look back with the knowledge that he proved everybody wrong.
I haven’t seen lineup information anywhere, but it seems like a safe bet that Darcy Hordichuk will be a healthy scratch tonight (he was benched after a terrible third shift in last night’s game against the Ducks) and Linus Omark will draw in, rested after playing three games in three days. With any luck, there will also be some shifts on the back end – Whitney had a terrible game, Potter’s been terrible for weeks if not months, and the Oilers are carrying eight defensemen.
Asked about today’s lineup last night (it’s at the end of this video clip, but be sure to watch the whole thing – there’s a comic element from about the 40 second mark on where Renney goes through mental errors of the team one-by-one), the head coach said he was leaning towards Dubnyk for the start, wanted to see Omark in the lineup, and was contemplating other changes:
The Oilers are playing their second in two nights, the Sharks are a better team and have desperation on their side too. It will be interesting to see if the coach’s tinkering will be enough to get a response from his team.
Game Day Prediction: The Oilers play a less problematic game than they did against Anaheim, but their tired legs can’t compete with a better Sharks team. 4-1 San Jose.
Obvious Game Day Prediction: One of the Oilers’ depth defenseman will make several noticeable gaffes. It probably won’t be Whitney, but with at least one of Barker/Potter/Peckham playing there’s no shortage of candidates.
Not So Obvious Game Day Prediction: Linus Omark is thrilled to be back in the lineup, and scores the Oilers’ lone goal on a cheeky breakaway move that raises the hackles of the more sensitive Sharks players.