Patience, the saying goes, is a virtue in the development of NHL defensemen. Rush, and you can ruin them. We’ve seen it happen. Resist the rush, ease them along the learning curve and, if the kid has the game and the gumption, you get rewarded. What you get, if you’re lucky, is Jeff Petry.
It’s been six years since the Edmonton Oilers selected Petry 45th overall in the 2006 Entry Draft as a string bean blueliner from the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL, so it’s not like he’s been fast-tracked. Petry spent three years at Michigan State University after draft day. He’s had stints in the minor leagues with Springfield and Oklahoma City.
Anybody who has watched how Petry, now 25, performed at the end of the 2011-12 season, and just as notably in logging more than 22 minutes of ice time in Edmonton’s 2012-13 season-opener against the Vancouver Canucks Sunday, can see it’s been time well spent.
Petry, with the benefit of time to develop, grow into his game and learn the ropes in the NHL, is only now entering prime time on a team that’s come up woefully wanting when it comes to developing defensemen from within the organization. He’s arriving right on time.
How good might Petry become?
Petry, a rakish six-foot-three and about 200 pounds, still has room to grow physically and in terms of his game, but the player we saw at the end of last season and Sunday against the Canucks paired with Ladislav Smid is already becoming a bigger factor than many thought him capable of when we first got a glimpse of him in Edmonton silks during the 2010-11 season.
Petry, who scored 2-23-25 in 73 games and averaged 21:46 in ice time last season, definitely has an offensive component to his game, but producing points probably isn’t going to be his calling card. The ability to cover a lot of ice and bang a little – maybe a lot if he fills out some more – and face the best forwards the opposition has is going to be his ticket. Already is.
Paired with Smid, the native of Ann Arbor, Michigan is morphing into that shutdown defenseman every team covets and needs. Better still, Petry can take care of his own end and moves the puck well enough to turn it back the other way in transition behind the likes of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ales Hemsky.
You can count the number of defensemen the Oilers have has with as many components to their game on one hand in the last decade – and on a finger or two if you’re talking about blueliners they’ve drafted and developed.
A year or two from now, might Petry be as important to the resurgence of the Oilers as all those blue chip first-rounders up front? Might his journey along the learning curve intersect perfectly with Edmonton’s return to contention?
We’re watching it unfold now.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.