Since making his debut as an Oiler on March 5th, 2010, Ryan Whitney has eight goals and 58 points In 105 games. He had tallied 38 points in his first 54 games, before injuring his ankle December 28th against Buffalo. He then missed 78 of the next 129 games with a variety of ankle/foot issues.
Whitney was able to play the final 34 games last season, but it was clear he’d lost some footspeed. He was frustrated, but he admitted that in those final few games he was finally pain free. His injury wasn’t hampering his speed, or lack thereof, his leg strength was.
Due to his injury in December of 2010, Whitney hadn’t been able to do any off-season training heading in the summer of 2011. It was obvious on the ice that he had no explosiveness, but when the Oilers packed their bags this past April Whitney was in a surprisingly good mood. He told me he was looking forward to finally being able to work out, and he was determined a solid summer of training would allow him to rediscover his game.
I spoke to Whitney back in May and he was just getting set to start training. He was still very excited about working out, but most importantly he was looking forward to power skating again.
I talked with Whitney again on Tuesday and got an update on how his summer is going.
JG : I talked to you after the season and you talked openly about how you were looking forward to this summer for training more than you ever had because you were actually going to get back on the ice and do power skating, something that you hadn’t done in two years. How is that going; have you noticed a difference and does that excite you for the season even more?
RW: I’ve really enjoyed getting back on the ice and finally getting healthy and realising that there is more to my game than I was showing. But it’s a long road to try to get back to how you were feeling when you were younger. I’ve put in a lot of hours and am probably in the best shape I’ve been in for a long time and so just being able to train all summer and be in the gym means a lot.
JG: How much of a difference do you think that power skating will do to help you when the season starts?
RW: I think that it will help a tonne, just getting back my stride, not being choppy and just little things that when you’re one on one with someone they are able to pick out.
JG: Is there anything that you’re doing different with your training because of the ankle injuries, or is that not an issue at all?
RW: No, I think that I’ve just been able to do a lot more plyometrics and nothing really hurts anymore, which was holding me back so much. And last summer I didn’t really do anything and so to be able to do box jumps, squat jumps, just different things like that that can give you leg power back can make a huge difference.
JG: You weren’t even able to do a box jump last summer?
RW: I wasn’t really able to do anything last summer and that was just so frustrating from the start. So it’s just like you’re playing catch up all year. I mean obviously there’s still a lot of work to be done, but I’m finally able to train all summer and it’s actually been a really good feeling to try to be able to feel healthy again.
JG: Will training help you mentally and give you more confidence when you step onto the ice this year? And will it allow you not to worry about your ankle anymore?
RW: It’s more just about feeling comfortable in my skates and on the ice. I don’t think that you can describe how really important having a training camp is and I didn’t really have a training camp last year. And like I said, you’re playing catch up. And so from the first day, whenever that is, hopefully it’s on time, to be able to just be skating with the guys it’s just going to make a huge difference not only physically, but you kind of feel like you’re part of a team again and that’s one of the biggest things.
JG: How often are you on the ice and how often are doing off-ice training?
RW: I’m skating four times a week and that’s kind of just starting this week. Before that it was just me one-on-one with a guy twice a week for probably the past month or so. You don’t want to burn yourself out. If I start being on the ice three or four days a week for the next month and a half before camp then that should be enough to get the training in.
JG: I know that you were at the NHLPA meetings, were you ever involved in any of them back in 2005?
RW: No I wasn’t. I had just turned pro that summer, so I played in the AHL playoffs the year before when Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup. So to be a part of it this summer and to be able to sit in on some meetings it was pretty cool for me to be able to see how all of those things go on.
JG: You sat in on some NHLPA meetings recently, what is your gut feeling; do you think that we will have a deal before September 15th?
RW: The other day Bettman even admitted that there’s enough time for something to be done. I think it’s been well documented that that none of the players really found the first proposal acceptable, but there’s a lot of room to work with and we still have some time. Personally I don’t want there to be a work stoppage and I don’t think that anyone does. With how well the league is doing, and it always does well in Canada, but for it to be doing as well as it is in the states, that’s a big thing and any momentum we can keep is huge. So you don’t want any stoppage and lose those on the fringe fans that will really have no problems switching to another sport even though they like hockey.
JG: Back in 2005 the salary cap was the big hurdle. This time it doesn’t sound like there are as many contentious issues. Do you get that sense as well?
RW: I don’t think that it’s on the same level as ’05. So my thought process the whole time has been, especially for myself finishing last year like I did, I just want to be starting on time and I think that every player does. And I’ve also thought that if we don’t I think that at most there will be a month, a month and a half. I think that last year guys know that there was a chance that we were going to miss a whole year and I haven’t hear that mention from anyone.
THOUGHTS ON SCHULTZ
JG: What do you know of Justin Schultz and how exciting was that for you when a young free agent choose your organization over 29 others?
RW: I think it’s huge and the fact that the Oilers got a highly touted guy that really had his chance to go anywhere was such a big thing for the organization and the team. I’ve heard that he’s a great kid that really has the potential to be a star so to get that young defenceman on the blue line to complement those young forwards. It’s really important for us.
JG: You’re a left handed shooting defenceman, he’s a right handed shooter, a lot of people have looked and projected that maybe he’ll play with you or maybe he plays with Nick Schultz. Have you had any conversations at all with Ralph Krueger; do you start thinking about who your defence partner is going to be this year?
RW: No, I’ve just spoke to Ralph once. I offered him congratulations when he got the job, and then he called me a couple of weeks later. We didn’t get into it that much, we just talked about the team and how excited he is to coach and what he wants to do. I didn’t get any requests in for my partner (laughs) by any means. It would definitely be exciting to be able to play with the kid if he’s that young and that skilled.
JG: From that conversation with Krueger, how do you think he’s going to coach?
RW: Offensively just knowing how much talent we have up front, we’re going to be a very quick team, very high paced and play some very quick up tempo hockey. Defensively his biggest thing is everyone is responsible and no one is taking shifts off, and everyone needs to know and accept their role because that is the only way that we can get going as a team.
JG: Do you think that he has the “hard-ass” element that is necessary for any NHL coach?
RW: Yeah, I really do think that he does. He had the ability to kind of snap and that was something that we had the opportunity to see individually as players last year. That was pretty important I think for us, just to know that by no means is he a pushover. He expects a lot out of the guys and we’re going to have to be ready to play and practise every day.
JG: You look at this blue line and I think it’s fair to say that when healthy you’re the number one defender on the team. Now you’re healthy for the first time in a long time. Have you had the conversations with Ralph about what you want your role to be on this team?
RW: We really haven’t gotten into that too much. He just kind of told me that he’s really happy that I’ve been able to train all summer, and I’m training hard, and he’s looking forward to having me and coaching me at camp and helping me develop and having me do what I’m good at. I think that we’re both really going to get along well and if I deserve to play a lot of minutes I will. He seems to be a very fair coach.
JG: You used the word fair to describe Krueger. Is that ultimately what you want out of any coach?
RW: I think that they let you know where you are in their mind and if you’re playing badly they won’t mind telling you, and when you’re good occasionally you get to hear that. So I think that you’re going to know where you stand with Ralph and what he’ll he expect out of you. That’s so important that each guy knows what the coach wants out of them. When there’s a grey area, things become difficult.
JG: If you ever got married and had kids would you name your daughter Destinee?
RW: Destinee is not a name that I’m looking at when I do have a daughter, especially with a last name like Hooker. That is a little bit of an odd choice I tweeted out. But I think that Destinee with any last name kind of screams probably having a job that your parents might not necessarily be proud of.
JG: When you’re watching the Olympics what sport do you like watching the most?
RW: I really enjoy watching the volleyball actually, the men’s volleyball and the indoor volleyball. Those guys are just unbelievable athletes. I think that the biggest thing is that all of those athletes are basically making money or they’re not making money, they put so much time and effort into just a one moment performance for four years. I love watching the Olympics because I think that it’s been a pretty special one in London this year.
JG: Which event or sport in the Olympics would you most likely like to excel at?
RW: I think that track and field would be cool. Just seeing Usain Bolt the other night, it was almost an electric moment; he had such an aura around him. To see that many people around the world watching him in that race and to be known as the fastest man on the planet would be pretty special.
JG: If you guys had a sprint like that off of the ice, which one of the Oilers do you think is the fastest?
RW: I’m going to say Hallsy. He’s got that speed on ice, he does a lot of track work, he gets those arms really flying and I could see him going pretty well. Definitely wouldn’t be Ebs, I know that. Horc would be pretty good; he does a lot of track work in the summer. Right now I have to go with Hallsy, but I haven’t seen Yakupov and I’ve heard that he’s pretty quick himself.
JG: Speaking of Eberle, is his putting as bad as you said it was on Twitter?
RW: It’s atrocious. I really honestly stay awake at night sometimes thinking how a guy with hands that good on the ice could be that bad of a putter. So I’ve told him many times (laughs) and he obviously doesn’t like hearing it, but it’s something that really kind of boggles my mind.
I wrote earlier this week that Devan Dubnyk’s play would have the biggest impact on the Oilers playoff aspirations, and I will put Whitney second on that list.
The Oilers have enough skilled forwards that if one falters, another one will pick up the slack, but the Oilers aren’t blessed with a plethora of top-pairing defencemen. Whitney is the Oilers only proven top-pairing defender, and if they want to be in the hunt come March then he’ll need to stay healthy and be productive.
Since coming over from the Ducks I mentioned Whitney has tallied 58 points in 105 games. In the 183 games the Oilers have played since Whitney joined them, he’s missed 78, they haven’t been blessed with a lot of offensive production from their backend.
Whitney: 58 points in 105 games.
Gilbert: 62 points in 147 games.
Petry: 30 points in 108 games.
Smid: 25 points in 156 games.
Foster: 22 points in 74 games.
Potter: 21 points in 62 games.
Peckham: 16 points in 125 games.
Vandermeer: 14 points in 62 games.
Sutton: 10 points in 52 games.
Chorney: 4 points in 17 games
N.Schultz: 4 points in 20 games.
Strudwick: 2 points in 43 games.
Barker: 2 points in 25 games.
Teubert: 1 point in 6 games.
Petiot: 0 points in 2 games.
Rodney: 0 points in 1 game.
With Gilbert gone it is clear the Oilers don’t have any established offensive D-men other than Whitney. Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz have potential to produce, but the Oilers can’t go into the season expecting them to be top-pairing defenders and put up points.
Whitney is crucial to the Oilers success and his return to the gym and on-ice training this summer has to be looked at as a positive for the Oilers.
Krueger’s job as head coach will be much easier, if Whitney is back playing 25+ minutes a night this season.