GDB 66.0: Reflecting on Ray Whitney

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.

Today’s Game

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.

  • Gitagrip

    That is not the sound of a happy, contented coach whose team is correctly implementing the game plan. I think he’s aged a few years over the course of this season.

  • paul wodehouse

    Love Ray Whitney

    … back in the day his father Floyd was a cop with the Dog Unit and a good friend to the Oiler organization…so good he was often the third goalie at most Oiler home practices and so one day this kid shows up in full gear and it’s Floyd’s kid Raymond off for Christmas break from the Dub…i think…Slats bag skates poor Raymond that day after most of the veterans had left the ice because Floyd asked Sather to give his kid a thorough NHL type practice from start to finish…as i’m packing up my camera gear i’m on the bench at one end shooting pictures of Ray loudly puking his guts out at the other end of the bench and Steve Smith skates over to where Raymond’s being scoffed at by various members including his old man and says …Hey kid you were the second star out there today good job… Ray looks up at #5 and says thanks to which Smitty says ya and everyone else was first star …true story

    Always have loved Ray Whitney

  • Another loss by renneys steeds shall once again undermine the HOPE that the oiler brass are trying to sell.

    On the other hand…. points for the sharks puts the flames in worse shape if that cranks your tractor.

  • I smell blood in the water.

    The team, after its usual hot start, are starting to smell fishy.

    Perhaps, another team from the Great White north can steal a game in San Jose.

    I see the Oilers snatching victory from the Jaws of defeat here today!

    Eat your heart out, Gene.

  • vetinari

    Renney is not a happy coach… again, there is a difference between having a workable game plan and implementing it… I sense that the players are not following what they are being told unless they are being told, “hey, on the PK, do a weak clearing flip to centre ice to their defenceman and then meander to the bench while the play turns around into a 5 on 0 on your goaltender– he’s not called the Bulin Wall for nothing so we should be fine”…

  • The Soup Fascist

    Whitney closing in on 1000 points. Always wished we had given him more than a 9 game tryout in 97/98. Scored 32g / 26g / 29g the following 3 years in Florida.

    After “struggling” in San Jose putting up about 40 points per season his first five seasons came into his own as a 25 year old with his 3rd team the Panthers. Small (5’10” and 175 pounds) and not especially fast still managed to become a 1000 pt NHL player. Amazing.

    Hmmmm ….. sound like anyone we know?

      • The Soup Fascist

        Except the part about trading the player away before true potential is realized.

        Critics will always find reasons why 89 won’t get there. But this comparison struck me after reading the article. Certainly Whitney experienced a step change in Florida and while there are no guarantees, the numbers, relative age and finally his pedigree does give hope that a similar career, in terms of numbers, is not out of the question. But first things first. Let’s see a 60 plus pt season without injury.

        Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.

  • paul wodehouse

    I was quite upset when the Oilers let Whitney go.
    I watched in an exhibition game. I think it was against Toronto. No goals but a couple goal posts and he was creating chances. I swear – he was the only one on that team that could create scoring chances. Doug Weight was pretty good too.

    Seems to me he caught on with Oilers but (the impression I got) is Ron Low wouldn’t play him. I lost some respect for Ron Low that season.

    • The Soup Fascist

      MacT`s days lasted four years if I recall.

      I think hes feeling some heat these days as its hard to say how the organization sees the progress of this team. Im no big fan of his, always thought he was over rated as a coach, but I think many Oilers fans generally like Tom, and would rather Tambo and Lowe see the door. This team is what it is, with too many holes yet to fill, and an organization inept at filling them.

  • The Soup Fascist

    I grew up in the same town as Ray. I went to a wedding where he MC’d the event and he was hilarious. I also ran into him at the Airport in Victoria a few years back just after he got his contract from Phoenix. He chatted with me and the wife and commented on our cute kids. He’s an all around good guy and super down to earth.

    One of my good buddies played hockey with Ray before the big leagues. He said Ray had the nickname of the Wizard even back then. I guess Ray said to my buddy, “stand in front of the net and put your stick on the ice and keep your head up, I’ll hit your stick and you direct it in.” Just like that my buddy was popping in goals as Ray was whizzing by the right and the left and every where else on the ice setting people up and scoring goals.

    A funny story of a few years back when Ray won the Cup and took it to Fort Saskatchewan for a parade. My wife was on the side of the street as Ray went past in the parade and she yelled “Go Oilers Go!!”, Ray looked at her and started laughing and gave her a thumbs up. haha that’s a good ole’ boy!

  • Phuryous George

    Why the hell is Jonathan Willis even on Oilersnation? Is he even a fan? Every “article” he writes is lined with negativity, at least the relative points. What is this arcticle even about? How does this even constitue a Game Day Blog? And, not a single prediction was even close. Back to Back games are a plus for this group. They alwaysplay better in big games that mean something to the other team, or top opponents. I’m not a “sports writer” like JW. Since he loves to be soooo critical, maybe he should move over to foodnation and crtique some resteraunts or something. Reading his articles are like listening to a rusty door hinge. Whiny and annoying.