SUN Hockey Pool

Toss his name in

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

Defenceman Jeff Petry might have been throwing strikes instead of checks had he grown up somewhere other than Hockey Town.

A naturally gifted athlete as a child, whose father, Dan, was a major league pitcher of some distinction, it seemed only natural that Jeff would follow in his footsteps.

And if the old man had spent most of his career in Tampa, Los Angeles or some other sun-drenched resort, he probably would have.

But, as fate would have it, Dan pitched 10 years in Detroit, where the Tigers have a rich tradition and loyal following, but the Red Wings' influence is impossible to ignore.

And, so, despite numerous visits to the Tigers clubhouse as a kid, Petry chose the blueline over the mound.

"I was always more of a hockey fan than baseball. I liked the fast pace and the hitting," said Petry, Edmonton's first pick (second round, 45th overall) in last year's NHL entry draft.

"I didn't get to many (Wings) games, but seeing them on TV inspired me a lot.

"It was my junior year in high school when I finally gave up baseball and wanted to concentrate on hockey, get a feel for going to junior camps and seeing what that would be like.

SUMMER CLINICS

"I've had to work on it. I did a lot of the summer clinics, a lot of power skating.

"Any camp I could get into I was going to."

And, even though he didn't pick baseball, the benefit of having a professional athlete for a father can't be overstated.

"I couldn't have done it without my dad. He's helped me so much. He knows what it took him to get to the next level.

"He always tells me stories about how he wasn't always the best player, but he worked harder than the other players."

The Petry work ethic seems to be paying off. The young defenceman had to skip out of Oilers development camp to attend an award ceremony in which he was named 2007 USA Hockey Junior Player of the Year.

"I'm very proud of it. There's a lot of people they could choose from," said Petry, who had 18 goals and 27 assists in 55 games with the Des Moines Buccaneers.

"At first it was a shock."

There have been a few of those lately for the six-foot-three, 200-pounder, who'll be playing for Michigan State this fall.

"It's all come so quick," he said.

"First it was going to the USHL, then it was ranked on Central Scouting, and being drafted, then defenceman of the year in our league, and then USA Player of the Year and coming to this camp.

"It's all happened so quick. It's strange to look back and see how I progressed in a year and a half."

SECOND ROUND

His stock is certainly higher today than it was when Edmonton scooped him up in the second round last June.

"I've talked to a number of hockey personnel this year who definitely feel he'd be a first rounder," said Oilers' director of hockey operations Kevin Prendergast.

"When we left our (draft) meetings (last year) he was the one player we had our fingers crossed we wanted to get. because everyone saw the same thing in him.

"He had a good year, a lot of people noticed him. I think it's a stepping stone for him. He's a talent.

"He doesn't shy away from work and he's going into a great situation going into Michigan State."


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