More than eight months have passed since defenceman Ryan Whitney was dealt from the only organization he had ever known, the Pittsburgh Penguins, to the Anaheim Ducks days before the 2009 trade deadline. Whitney headed west while left wing Chris Kunitz and junior prospect Eric Tangradi joined the Penguins. Tonight, Whitney faces his old club for the first time since the trade.
What was the path that led to the trade and how is Whitney doing now? Or as the ancients would concisely say: “Whither Whitney?”
The 6’4″, 219 lb. Boston native was a 2002 first-round draft choice (fifth overall) of Pittsburgh during the first summer of the franchise’s rebuilding program. The summer of 2001 marked the end of the Jaromir Jagr era and the subsequent season saw the Penguins miss the playoffs for the first time in twelve campaigns. Whitney was thus tabbed as a buliding block for the future and two other players drafted by Pittsburgh that year, Erik Christensen (also now with the Ducks) and Maxime Talbot, would also be part of Penguins squads that later competed in the playoffs.
When Whitney inked a six-year, $24-million contract prior to 2007-08, his status as a long-term Penguin seemed even more certain. That season, he logged more overall time on ice per game and more power play time on ice per game than all Penguins except Sergei Gonchar. Whitney scored twelve goals including seven with the man advantage. However, in the offsesason, Whitney received surgery on his left foot that delayed the start of his 2008-09 season until December 23. When he came back, he struggled like many of his teammates, as the Penguins went through January and February battling to even stay in the playoff race. Whitney’s mind must have also been preoccupied with the health of his mother who was recovering from brain cancer surgery less than twenty-four hours prior to the deal. When the trade occurred, he was actually with his mother in Boston, where ironically, the Ducks were preparing to play the Bruins. Up to that point, in twenty-eight games, he had scored two goals and eleven assists with a -15 +/- rating.
When he joined Anaheim, Whitney was warmly received by his new teammates and lauded as a good puck-moving, shooting and skating defenceman by Ducks’ head coach Randy Carlyle. He was immediately paired with big Chris Pronger to give the Ducks an imposing, intimidating duo on defence. In twenty regular season games with the Ducks, Whitney scored no goals and ten assists but in the first round of the playoffs, he was instrumental in Anaheim’s huge upset of the President’s Trophy-winning San Jose Sharks. Whitney assisted on one goal in each of the first four games of the series as the Ducks jumped out to an abrupt three games to one lead. Then in the clinching sixth game, Whitney earned the respect of his teammates and home fans by getting into his first fight in an Anaheim uniform, dropping the mitts against the Sharks’ Joe Pavelski.
In the second round, Whitney matched up against a familiar foe, the Detroit Red Wings, whom he faced as a Penguin in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final. Unfortunately for Whitney and his Anaheim teammates, Detroit prevailed in seven games. Whitney scored Anaheim’s lone goal in a game five loss at Detroit and he assisted on a Teemu Selanne score in the season-ending game, four nights later.
Another bitter end to the season at the hands of the Wings was made all the more harsh no doubt, when Whitney watched his former teammates win the Cup Final rematch against Detroit one month later. In the offseason, Whitney was invited to the U.S. Olympic orientation camp in August. Among the co-invitees familiar to Whitney were Brooks Orpik of the Pens and current Tampa Bay Lightning and ex-Pen forward Ryan Malone.
This season, Whitney is being counted on to accept a heavy workload and to continue developing into a top offensive-minded defenceman. He has logged an impressive average of 26:43 ice time per game, more than anyone in the NHL except Pronger, his former defence partner now with Philadelphia, and Jay Bouwmeester of Calgary. Importantly, Whitney is being used in shorthanded and power play situations, where Anaheim wants to take advantage of his booming shot from the point. His shots per game ratio has dropped every season since his rookie campaign of 2005-06 and the Ducks think that by encouraging more shots from Whitney, logically, his goal totals will rise as will the fortunes of the Anaheim Ducks.
Filed Under: Pittsburgh Penguins
About the Author: Adrian Fung (@PenguinsMarch) contributes game reports, opinions, analysis and features, mostly about the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has covered the World Hockey Summit, Kraft Hockeyville, World Junior Championship exhibition games, CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, MasterCard Memorial Cup and NHL Rookie Tournament for Hockey Independent. twitter.com/PenguinsMarch