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NHL Edmonton Oilers

Ryan Whitney Showing Signs of Improvement for Edmonton Oilers

John E. Sokolowski-US Presswire

Ryan Whitney’s 2013 season hasn’t exactly been what he had hoped for with the Edmonton Oilers. In fact, it’s been a downright disaster for him.

The former fifth overall pick in 2002 has seen many things this season he has not been accustomed to, not the least of which is the multiple games being a healthy scratch, a foreign concept earlier in his career.

There appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel though – that being improved play and less time in a shirt and tie in the press box.

Perhaps the most telling sign that Whitney’s play has seen improvement is the fact he has been dressed and in the lineup the last three straight games. You would have to look back almost six weeks to see the last time that happened in 2013.

Not only has he been on the ice more, but the numbers prove it as well. Over the last three games on the Oilers road trip, Whitney has been a +2 with a goal in two of them – a number made more impressive considering that all of those games were losses for Edmonton.

Watching Whitney over the last few games, there is also a sense of growing confidence in his play. He is playing with more aggression in all areas, especially offensively where he has jumped into the rush more frequently and looked for his spots. This was evidenced in his goal against Columbus, where he was aggressive pinching down the wall to keep the puck in and the play alive in the offensive zone.

If he can keep his play going, it couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Oilers are in the middle of their most grueling road trip in years. The team has gone 1-2-2 and desperately need points to stay alive in the playoff race.

The Oilers defense as a whole have been much maligned this year, but there are signs the entire group is rounding into form.

The top pairing of Nick and Justin Schultz have been good all year and continue to be, and the former top pair in Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry have had a rough start but are starting to find their game. If Whitney can become a mainstay in the lineup on the third pair, it would be a definite added bonus.

The key, of course, is Whitney staying consistent and healthy. If he does so, it will be very difficult for Ralph Krueger to take him out of the lineup and could force a decision with the defense group.

Currently there are eight healthy NHL defensemen on the roster with Whitney, Mark Fistric, Corey Potter and Theo Peckham rotating in and out of the third pairing. One would have to think something will give soon, whether it be a trade, demotion or move somewhere, especially if Whitney proves he deserves to stay in the lineup each night.

It’s a good problem to have if you’re Krueger, as it would mean the Ryan Whitney of old, or at least a semblance of him, is back and can be relied on.

It’s up to Whitney now to prove to the coach he deserves the opportunity.