I’ve always liked Ryan Whitney. Being a Penguins fan, I got to see him at his best, before the ankle injuries took their toll on him. Earlier today, this was posted to twitter
— Ryan Whitney (@ryanwhitney6) September 20, 2015
It’s really too bad that his career had to get derailed by injuries. I’ve always thought that Whitney was among the better of the many defensemen to pass through Edmonton in the post-Pronger era. The start of his career showed a ton of promise for the 5th overall pick from the 2002 Entry Draft. This was a time when the Pittsburgh Penguins were god awful, and had an embarrassment of riches resulting from low finishes and high picks. After spending a few season in the AHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Whitney made his NHL debut in 2005-06, playing 68 games and posting 38 points. Whitney would spend parts of the next three seasons in Pittsburgh, and developed instant chemistry with Sidney Crosby on the power play, having the best season of his career in 2006-07, putting up 14-45-59 in 81 games that year. The next season, he would help the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since 1992, falling to the Detroit Red Wings in 6 games.
Unfortunaley, Whitney would not be returning to the Finals with the Penguins the following year, as he was part of the three player deal that brought Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi over from the Anaheim Ducks. It’s too bad that the Pens felt they had to move Whitney to bring in a winger to play with Crosby. I would have loved to see Whitney win the Cup with the Penguins.
His time in Anaheim would be short lived, as just over a year later, Whitney would be moved to the Edmonton Oilers with a conditional pick for high priced blue liner Lubomir Vishnovsky. Honestly, it didn’t seem like Whitney meshed very well with a tight knit team in Anaheim, and wasn’t able to produce the way he did with Pittsburgh. But coming into Edmonton, at the end of a lost season, he was joining a team that was finally willing to embrace the rebuild process. Jordan Eberle was already waiting in the wings, and that spring, the Oilers would use their first ever Number One pick to select Taylor Hall, and begin the culture change in the City of Champions.
Whitney would be relied upon as a veteran leader in the dressing room, a role he seemed to relish. Unfortunatley, he 2010-11 season was also the year that injuries began to take on impact. He was limited to only 35 games, but still put up 27 points. The following season saw an even steeper decline in his production, as his 54 appearances resulted in just 20 points. The fans soured on Whitney, which I always felt was unjustified. If not for the ankle issues, Whitney could have been a very effect blue liner for the Oilers, and could have stabilized a position that found itself in turmoil until just recently when Peter Chiarelli took over the team.
Whitney would last one more mediocre season with the Oilers, and signed with the Florida Panthers in 2013-14. He played just seven games in Florida, spending a majority of that season with their AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage. The next season, Whitney signed with Sochi HC of the KHL, and posted totals of 6-13-19 in his 42 games with the club. In 2015, he signed with MODO of the Swedish league, although he would only appear in 2 games, before deciding to call it a career.
Ryan Whitney was a very polarizing player during his time with the Oilers. While my personal opinion is that he got the short end of the stick from the fans in this city, many people would say it was justified. He by no means had an all-star type of career, but its a career Whitney can be very proud of. He finishes with 50-209-259 in 481 NHL games, and was able to represent his country in the Olympics, playing for Team USA. While Ryan Whitney will never be remembered with the fondness and admiration of say, Ryan Smyth, he was a class act during his time in Edmonton, and represented the Oilers as well as any has during his shirt time here. All the best Ryan Whitney. Enjoy your retirement.