When the Oilers traded for Mark Fistric, it was good news for the team because it added a reliable, penalty-killing veteran who plays the game with a physical edge. It was bad news for Theo Peckham, since penalty-killing and a physical edge were the two things he added from his spot at the bottom of the defensive depth chart.
Peckham was activated off injured reserve by the Oilers on Tuesday. Now he’s likely the eighth defenceman, competing for a third-pairing job with Ryan Whitney, Corey Potter and Mark Fistric. Is there something he can do that the others can’t?
Well, there is one thing. Peckham himself hinted at it in a recent conversation with the Edmonton Journal’s Joanne Ireland:
[W]hen they put me in, I’m going to try and give them something they don’t have. I’ll try and be that mean player that I am.
Peckham is not going to displace either Ryan Whitney or Corey Potter as a puck-mover, and his career to date doesn’t suggest that he’s a better defensive option than Mark Fistric. What could set him apart, however, is his willingness to fight.
Fistric has eight regular season fights in his NHL career, according to hockeyfights.com. Peckham had 10 as a rookie alone, and regularly cracked double-digits during his junior career. With Ben Eager concussed and Darcy Hordichuk generally absent from the lineup, that ability to drop the gloves might give Peckham the edge he needs to stay in the game.
Peckham undoubtedly knows that. His contract expires this season, and with a bunch of young defenceman coming in his spot on the Oilers is in definite jeopardy. Coming off a poor season, and starting this shortened year on injured reserve, he’s in a tough spot.
Making things tougher is Peckham’s concussion history. Peckham suffered his first NHL concussion in a fight with Nathan Horton in March of his rookie season; Horton caught him with a right and dropped him, costing Peckham eight games. Peckham described trouble focusing, blurry vision, and headaches.
A puck to the face cost Peckham 15 games in the second half of 2012, though Peckham indicated that particular injury did not cause a concussion. He was in the lineup for less than a month before taking a hit from then-Columbus captain Rick Nash; despite quickly returning to the ice after the hit it was later determined that he was concussed on the play. That finished him for the season.
My guess is that even with the injury history, Peckham fights. It’s the one thing – short of an unlikely spike in his performance – that can keep him competitive for a spot on the roster.