11

Top 10 Who Got Away: Ray Whitney (1)

Ray Whitney could have been one of the best local-boy-makes-good stories of his generation when he showed up on the doorstep of the Edmonton Oilers as a free agent in the late-1990s. Instead, the undersized kid from Fort Saskatchewan, a former stick boy with the Oilers whose dad Floyd was a city cop and a practice goaltender with the team, goes into the franchise record books as one of the team’s greatest blunders.

A lot of teams blew it on Whitney, a prolific forward with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL who wasn’t even drafted in his first year of eligibility. The Oilers, though, doubled-down on that, missing him in the draft and then letting him go on waivers in November 1997, just over a month after they’d brought him in as a cast-off by the San Jose Sharks. The Florida Panthers got Whitney for a waiver fee. The local boy angle would play out elsewhere to the tune 1,064 points over 1,330 regular season games, just nine of those with the Oilers, and a 2006 Stanley Cup celebration with the Carolina Hurricanes. Oops!

Ray Whitney

Left Wing — shoots R
Born May 8 1972 — Fort Saskatchewan, ALTA
Height 5.10 — Weight 180 [178 cm/82 kg]

Drafted by San Jose Sharks

Round 2 #23 overall 1991 NHL Entry Draft

BY THE NUMBERS

Season

Age

Tm

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S%

1991-92

19

SJS

2

0

3

3

-1

0

0.0

1992-93

20

SJS

26

4

6

10

-14

4

16.7

1993-94

21

SJS

61

14

26

40

2

14

17.1

1994-95

22

SJS

39

13

12

25

-7

14

19.4

1995-96

23

SJS

60

17

24

41

-23

16

16.0

1996-97

24

SJS

12

0

2

2

-6

4

0.0

1997-98

25

TOT

77

33

32

65

9

28

18.9

1997-98

25

EDM

9

1

3

4

-1

0

5.3

1997-98

25

FLA

68

32

29

61

10

28

20.5

1998-99

26

FLA

81

26

38

64

-3

18

13.5

1999-00

27

FLA

81

29

42

71

16

35

14.6

2000-01

28

TOT

46

10

24

34

-17

30

8.3

2000-01

28

FLA

43

10

21

31

-16

28

8.5

2000-01

28

CBJ

3

0

3

3

-1

2

0.0

2001-02

29

CBJ

67

21

40

61

-22

12

10.0

2002-03

30

CBJ

81

24

52

76

-26

22

10.2

2003-04

31

DET

67

14

29

43

7

22

11.8

2005-06

33

CAR

63

17

38

55

0

42

11.6

2006-07

34

CAR

81

32

51

83

-5

46

14.9

2007-08

35

CAR

66

25

36

61

-6

30

12.3

2008-09

36

CAR

82

24

53

77

2

32

11.0

2009-10

37

CAR

80

21

37

58

-6

26

12.3

2010-11

38

PHX

75

17

40

57

0

24

10.9

2011-12

39

PHX

82

24

53

77

26

28

13.0

2012-13

40

DAL

32

11

18

29

1

4

17.7

2013-14

41

DAL

69

9

23

32

-6

14

7.3

6 yrs SJS

200

48

73

121

-49

52

15.6

5 yrs CAR

372

119

215

334

-15

176

12.4

4 yrs FLA

273

97

130

227

7

109

14.6

3 yrs CBJ

151

45

95

140

-49

36

10.0

2 yrs DAL

101

20

41

61

-5

18

10.8

2 yrs PHX

157

41

93

134

26

52

12.0

1 yr DET

67

14

29

43

7

22

11.8

1 yr EDM

9

1

3

4

-1

0

5.3

Career

1330

385

679

1064

-79

465

12.7

PLAYOFFS

Season

Age

Tm

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S%

1993-94

21

SJS

14

0

4

4

-4

8

0.0

1994-95

22

SJS

11

4

4

8

-3

2

26.7

1999-00

27

FLA

4

1

0

1

-2

4

5.9

2003-04

31

DET

12

1

3

4

-4

4

4.8

2005-06

33

CAR

24

9

6

15

-1

14

22.5

2008-09

36

CAR

18

3

8

11

-9

4

5.5

2010-11

38

PHX

4

1

2

3

0

2

9.1

2011-12

39

PHX

16

2

5

7

-1

10

5.9

2013-14

41

DAL

5

0

0

0

-1

0

0.0

Career

108

21

32

53

-25

48

9.9

WITH THE OILERS

I’ve never heard what I consider a reasonable explanation why the Oilers, with Glen Sather the GM and Ron Low the coach at the time, let Whitney go. Then again, the Oilers made a habit of drafting bigger and less talented players than Whitney during the 1990s, so maybe that illustrates the bigger-is-better mentality of the era. Sather and Low couldn’t or wouldn’t find a spot for Whitney after nine games on a team that wasn’t very good, so off he went to Florida.

It didn’t take the Oilers very long to find out they’d soiled the sheets and made the wrong call on Whitney, who put up a modest 1-3-4 in his nine games with Edmonton. He’d go on to tally 32-29-61 in 68 games with the Panthers. Those numbers alone would have put Whitney second in Oilers’ scoring behind Doug Weight, who had 70 points that season. That, of course, was only the beginning for Whitney, who’d spend the rest of his NHL career making his critics look stupid.

DOWN THE ROAD

Had Whitney been six-foot-two instead of five-foot-10, he likely wouldn’t have kicked around like he did with San Jose, who drafted him 23rd overall in 1991 after seasons of 113 and 185 points in Spokane. I’m thinking the Oilers fell victim to that mentality too. The old saying is that big players have to prove they can’t play while small players have to prove they can. From age 25 on, Whitney proved that beyond any doubt.

All told, Whitney scored 20-or-more goals 10 times in his career, including two seasons of 30-plus (33 and 32). He had 60-or-more points eight times, with his career-high of 83 points coming with Carolina in 2006-07. When the Hurricanes beat the team that sent Whitney away for nothing in the 2006 Stanley Cup final, he had 55 points during the regular season and 15 more in the playoffs. The Wizard got his storybook moment – against the Oilers instead of with them.

This series of various Top 10 lists will focus on the post-1990 Oilers – the players who haven’t played on a Stanley Cup winner in Edmonton.

Previously in this Series:



  • GK1980

    I remember this and at the time the oilers released him I was livid! He was showing amazing promise before the oilers grabbed him and then they just let him go.

    Good pick for one of their biggest blunders! I was always a fan and winced years after when he put up fantastic numbers.

  • ubermiguel

    That was the era of “you can’t teach size”. Just look at the top draft picks around that time (Thornton, Marleau, Jokinen, Brewer, Mara, Chris Phillips, Zyuzin, Jean-Pierre Dumont, Alexander Volchkovs, Ric Jackman, Daniel Tkaczuk, Lecavalier, Legwand, Brad Stuart, Bryan Allen, Vitali Vishnevski); none of them below 6’1″, some much bigger. Lessons I learned from Whitney: it’s the size of the fight in the dog, not the dog in the fight; and some players need more time to find their game.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Good pick for No. 1 here. Really, there can’t be any other.

    I’m not going to make any excuses for the Oilers, but the late 1990s were not a good time for players like Whitney. NHL teams were not only drafting big players over small players back then; they were playing them, too. Sure, you had to be able to skate, but all of your best players had to be big. Remember the Legion of Doom line in Philly (Lindros/Leclair/Renberg)? They were all massive guys who could score and hit. That’s what everyone wanted. But there weren’t enough of those big talented guys to go around, so most of the rest of the league kept up by getting bigger. If you can’t beat, check them. Or whatever. That’s really what started the Dead Puck Era. Big guys, small rinks, no room to skate, not enough hands to score. And we haven’t even talked about the size of goalie equipment or sweaters yet.

    Little skill players like Whitney were an anachronism – a relic from a bygone era where skill won out (i.e. the 1980s). Theoren Fleury was still around but even he was pretty unique – a skilled pepper-pot who didn’t realize he was only, like, 5-foot-6. Other small guys were either constantly on the lookout for headhunters (Paul Kariya), put on power-plays as “specialists” (Cliff Ronning), or chased out of the league.

    But … still … it’s weird that a guy like Glen Sather would have missed the boat on a guy like Whitney. Slats was heralded as a revolutionary in the 1980s – fusing the Canadiens firewagon hockey of the 1970s with Canadian/Finnish influences. In the original Boys on the Bus documentary, he openly bragged that the great GMs (read: such as him) are the ones who can spot a genuine hockey player among the pretenders. It’s hard to believe that nine games into the 1997-98 season, he would have watched an Oilers practice with pluggers like Tony Hrkac, Boyd Devereaux, Joe Hulbig, Steve Kelly, Mike Watt, Mats Lindren, and Scott Fraser toiling through drills and decided they were keepers and Whitney wasn’t.

    But, then again, Slats wasn’t the only one. Until this article, I didn’t realize Whitney did a year in Detroit. The Red Wings were the standard-bearer for spotting, drafting (and buying) skill back then. It’s a bit of a relief to know that they swung and missed on him, too.

    • Size mattered in the era Whitney was drafted. I saw him for parts of two seasons in Spokane while I was covering the Blazers in Kamloops, but missed his draft season. Guys like Ray were overlooked or drafted later than they should have been because of size. Reminds me a lot of Mark Recchi in that regard. Had Mark been six-foot-one he’d have been a top-15 pick. Different now than it was then.

  • Fat Steve

    lol@ the ones who got away. He was here for 9 games, that hardly counts as a stint. Hell, sometimes it takes an injured player 9 games to get back up to speed. I will once again say HE DID NOT GET AWAY. FFS who comes up with these articles?? Was Brownlee forced to write this nonsense series? OMG.

  • kelvjn

    Didn’t those late 90’s team already had a 5’11 Weight and 5’10 Marchant? They can always find a spot for a 70 point player for sure, but at some point they need to worry about running a smurf team. That was the middle of the neutral zone trap clutch and grab era too.

    • If you look at the 1997-98 roster, size at forward wasn’t a problem. Weight was 202 pounds and Marchant never backed off from physical play. They had Jason Arnott before he was swapped for Bill Guerin, Kelly Buchberger, Ryan Smyth, Andrei Kovalenko, Mike Grier and Mats Lindgren, none of whom were smurfs. The problem, as Sather and Low saw it, is they didn’t have room for a small skilled player on the top three lines.

  • OilCan2

    I actually played a beer league game with Ray when he was the stick boy. Yikes he could wheel and deal at full speed. It was an honour to be on the same sheet of ice as him. The Oilers can make good with the latest Spokane Chiefs legend in Yamamoto.