Oilers need healthy Whitney

Oilers' Ryan Whitney speaks to the media during the first day of training camp at Rexall Place on...

Oilers' Ryan Whitney speaks to the media during the first day of training camp at Rexall Place on Saturday. (Perry Nah/QMI AGENCY)

Derek Van Diest, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:01 PM ET

Last season, the Edmonton Oilers struggled keeping the puck out of their net.

 

Only the Colorado Avalanche conceded more goals than the Oilers, who gave up an average of 3.28 per game.

Heading into this season, the Oilers defensive corps remains essentially the same. They’ve added toughness on the back end via a trade with the Anaheim Ducks for Andy Sutton. The Oilers also picked up former third-overall pick Cam Barker who struggled with the Minnesota Wild last season.

However, if the team is going to improve in their own end this year, they’re going to need Ryan Whitney to stay healthy and more production out of the rest of the group.

Here’s how the Oilers blue-line breaks down heading into the season.

Ryan Whitney – Tom Gilbert

Ladislav Smid – Cam Barker

Theo Peckham – Andy Sutton

On the bubble:

Taylor Chorney – Jeff Petry

Waiting in the wings:

Alex Plante – Colten Teubert

Ryan Whitney – Was having a career year last season before a foot injury derailed it. Whitney has yet to fully recover from surgery this off-season. It’s expected he’ll have to be eased back into the lineup and it could be a while before he starts logging the kind of minutes he did at his peak last year. How his feet hold up this season will go far in determining how well the Oilers play defensively.

Tom Gilbert – The Oilers were convinced Gilbert would develop into a top-end defenceman, which is why they signed him to a lucrative six-year contract following his first full season in the league. Through the first three years of that contract, Gilbert has shown he can excel when asked to play on the top defensive pairing, and ironically, has at times struggled in a supporting role. He’ll be relied on heavily this season.

Ladislav Smid – The Oilers have invested a lot of time in developing Smid, which is one of the reasons they did not part with him when teams were inquiring at the trade deadline last season. A rugged, stay-at-home type, Smid won’t provide much offensively with one goal in his last four years, however, it’s the play in his own end and ability to move the puck, which is of great value to the Oilers. They’ll need him to take on more of a leadership role this year as well.

Cam Barker – Selected third overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft behind Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, Barker is now with his third NHL team. He missed out on the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup run having been traded at the deadline that season and was bought out in Minnesota this off-season. The Oilers are hoping he can rediscover the form that made him one of the top prospects in a draft class that included two of the best players in the game today.

Theo Peckham – They don’t come much tougher and grittier than Peckham, who is developing into a solid stay-at-home defenceman. Heading into his second full season, the Oilers are hoping that development continues. He’s expected to take on a bigger role this season and will have some help when it comes to protecting the Oilers young skill.

Andy Sutton – A proven, veteran NHLer, Sutton is expected to provide size, stability and leadership to the Oilers’ blue-line. Having twice scored eight goals in a season, Sutton does have some offensive capabilities, but the Oilers are more concerned with what he does in his own end and how well he protects his teammates.

Taylor Chorney – Will be battling for the final spot on the blue-line. Chorney has proven to be a dependable call-up when injuries have affected the club. He’s looking to land a full-time roster spot this season and is probably the front-runner to be the team’s seventh defenceman heading into training camp.

Jeff Petry – The Oilers got a good look at Petry last year having been called up for 35 games. He, too, will be in the running for the final roster spot on the blue-line this season. It’ll be up to the former Michigan State standout to prove he’s capable of being an everyday NHL defenceman if he wants to stay.

Alex Plante – Time is running out on the former 15th overall pick. Plante hasn’t done enough in the minors in the past couple of years to warrant an extended call-up with the Oilers. He needs to prove the club didn’t make a mistake in selecting him that high in the 2007 draft. Plante is in danger of being passed over on the depth chart by defencemen selected after him in subsequent drafts.

Colten Teubert – A highly-touted prospect, the Oilers are hoping Teubert lives up to his billing after acquiring him in the Dustin Penner deal at the trade deadline last season. Unfortunately Teubert’s training camp got off to a rough start, getting KO’d at the Young Stars tournament. He’s yet to suit up at main camp due to concussion-type symptoms, but the Oilers are hoping to get at least a look at him in the exhibition season in order to evaluate his quality as a prospect.

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

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