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The Progress Report: Defensive Development

Rookie defenceman Jeff Petry makes the most his first big-league opportunity

Thursday, 10.02.2011 / 1:25 PM / Features
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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The Progress Report: Defensive Development
Jeff Petry has recorded one goal & three assists through 19 games with the Oilers this season. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images).
When the puck dropped to open the 2010-11 season back in October, the expectation of who would emerge as the Oilers’ top defenceman was an easy call.

After being acquired at last season’s trade deadline, Ryan Whitney quickly made an impact in an organization that was looking to grow and rebuild its image as a Stanley Cup contender.

For the 35 games he played this season, Whitney excelled in the top pairing capacity and quickly gained notoriety around the league for his strong defensive role and outstanding offensive presence.

Everything changed when the 27-year old suffered an ankle injury on December 28.

In the 19 games that been have played without Whitney’s services since that time, the Oilers have only come away victorious in four decisions. In a season dedicated to change and a fresh atmosphere around the rink, some good news surfaced from the team’s unfortunate predicament.

22-year old defenceman Jeff Petry -- a rookie from Ann Arbor, Michigan -- has been thrust into the lineup after nearly earning a spot this past September at training camp. Four seasons after he was drafted in the second round, 45th overall by the Oilers, Petry made his NHL debut on December 28, 2010.

After playing the past three seasons at Michigan State University, Petry got his first taste of professional hockey at the end of the 2009-10 campaign. The 6’3” blueliner suited up for eight games with the AHL’s Springfield Falcons, recording three assists and gaining valuable experience as he entered a new era of his hockey career.

Prior to his recall on December 27, Petry played in 32 games for the Barons in Oklahoma City, where he accumulated seven goals and 14 points on an ever-increasing offensive pace. Less than a calendar year after Petry left Michigan State, his professional career began to take shape. He was now playing in the National Hockey League; a dream realized for the young Michigan product.

The smooth-skating rearguard struggled defensively in Edmonton’s 4-2 loss to Buffalo. A minus-three rating to open a promising career was certainly not the initiation that was expected. Even so, Petry showed glimpses of the raw talent and high skill level that has him so highly regarded in the Oilers organization.

After all, this was a player learning on the fly under one of the most difficult circumstances possible. Nerves were cast aside as his 22:51 of ice-time highlighted an eventful debut. Petry would add an assist in the contest to record his first NHL point and escape the evening with mixed emotions and a wealth of imparted knowledge.

18 games have been played since that night, and it would appear that Petry’s big-league nervousness has evolved into veteran-like poise and budding conviction.

With an ice-time average that eclipses the 20-minute mark, the young blueliner has continually taken on a greater role as the season winds down. On January 21 vs. Nashville, Petry played an impressive 27:22 and was able to collect four shots on goal in the team’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Predators.

Handling the pressure seemed to come naturally, but that evening provided a unique moment. No longer was Petry seen as a rookie defenceman; he had now, only 12 games into his career, established his role as one of the team’s most dependable blueliners -- top pairing material in the making.

Of course, Petry brings more than a calm demeanor and the physical ability to perform at a high-level during his 20-plus minutes a night. When he was selected at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, the Oilers had carefully studied what they envisioned could provide in a long-term capacity.

Petry brought a unique skill-set that drew the attention of the Oilers organization. Earlier that spring, Edmonton made a remarkable run to the Stanley Cup Final. While goaltending and timely scoring were contributing factors to that success, a dominant core of defenceman helped shut down opposition forwards and earn the respect as a championship-caliber squad.

It was a winning concoction, and something that the organization wanted to replicate with a new group of blueliners at some point in the future.

Petry’s technical understanding of the game has helped him create an extensive two-way arsenal that features incredible offensive upside and the puck-moving philosophy to kick-start an attack.

Combined with his superb skating talent, distributing the puck has always been an integral component of Petry’s game. His mix of size and skill makes this an especially lethal combination, as accurate passes or wheeling with the puck provide a pair of options to escape opposition forecheckers.

After gaining the offensive zone, his ability to read the play helps to create a distinct advantage. His accurate cannon from the point forces defenders to respect his control of the pace and remain aware of any potential pass outlets.

Defensively, his management of the game is showcased in much the same way. Precision positioning, an active stick, and an appropriately balanced physical game provide him with the necessary tools to be successful at the NHL level.

His dominant defensive presence also helps contribute to the transition game as well. On a team that features speed on each forward unit, this is underrated component of Petry’s all-encompassing game. 

With 28 games remaining on the 2010-11 schedule, Petry is now in the process of combining all the aforementioned skill-sets to continue his expedited path of development.

As General Manager Steve Tambellini has noted on a number of occasions, part of the rebuilding process is determining what you’ve got in the organization to include in a long-term plan. The early arrival of Petry has given the team a chance to evaluate a prized prospect amidst the rigors of a full 82-game NHL schedule.

Add Jeff Petry’s name to the list of young players that, at least for the time being, have established a role as one of the organization’s young building blocks.

Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com
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