Ryan Whitney was really the first chip of the rebuild. Drafted fifth overall in 2002, Whitney was the first of five straight top 5 picks the Penguins would have. Heralded as a big defenseman with nice skating ability and good puck movement, Whitney developed for the next three seasons at Boston University and in Wilkes-Barre of the American Hockey League, before sticking with Pittsburgh full time a little into the 2005-06 season.
Whitney put up some decent numbers across the board; 153 points in 250 career games with Pittsburgh. He developed a great chemistry on the power play with Sidney Crosby and parlayed scoring 59 points in 81 games in 2006-07 to a six year, $24 million contract. It was about that point that Whitney began to morph into a fan's whipping boy, as his stats and confidence slowly eroded, last season he played with a debilitating foot injury that would require off-season surgery, but he still stuck it out. Like many big players that aren't physical, Whitney was constantly derided for not having that attribute.
But we should stop and remember Ryan Whitney for the good times, and here are what I think his two finest moments were as a Penguin after the jump...
April 9, 2008
This was Game 1 of the playoffs going up against Ottawa, a team that easily dispatched the Penguins a year earlier. So obviously the young but still untested Penguins wanted to make their mark on the series and show that 2008 would be different than 2007.
Despite Pittsburgh taking full control of the game with a 3-0 lead, Ottawa wanted to show the Pens they were not impressed. So Wade Redden decided to get in captain Sidney Crosby's face. While the whole team rushed to support Crosby, who was it that made Redden answer the bell (and eat his lunch)? Ryan Whitney
Hockey Fight: Whitney vs Redden (04-09-08) (via pxbrgpranker)
June 2, 2008
--Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals, also known as the 3 OT heart stopper. The Red Wings were trying to put the Pens away and lift the Cup in their barn. After falling in a hole, the Pens were desperately trying to claw back and extend the series back to Pittsburgh for a Game 6. To make matters even worse for the Pens, Sergei Gonchar went down in the middle of the game with an injury that would knock him out of action. They would have to rely on five defensemen, but the one they really turned to was Ryan Whitney.
Whitney played an incredible amount of ice-time, 50:46 to be exact. The next closest Penguin, Rob Scuderi, had seven minutes less ice-time than that. Across the way, even vaunted iron-man Nicklas Lidstrom "only" played 45:42. Whitney not only shouldered the burden of Gonchar's absence, but he played arguably the game of his career to this point. Though he didn't score, he was a +2 and did everything in his power to ensure that the formidable Red Wings didn't score either in the over-time.
The Penguins dealt the first major piece of their young core today, and a lot of fans are happy. But in a lot of ways, without Ryan Whitney's contributions the Penguins wouldn't have done as well as they did last year, and the organ-eye-zation as a whole wouldn't be where it is today. For that he is owed a debt of gratitude, and best wishes down in sunny California. Whitney may have been made obsolete by the play of guys like Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski, who are younger and more cap friendly, but I get the feeling that Anaheim will be mighty happy with their new player once his foot heals up 100% and he gets a fresh start out there.