Ryan Whitney announced his retirement over the weekend from hockey.
It's a shame to see what looked like an inevitability become a reality, however it made me think about Whitney's career and his place in Penguins lore.
Ryan Whitney was a very important player in the puzzle of the Pittsburgh Penguins rebuild following the sell-off of stars from the late '90s and early 2000's teams. He was the first of five years of high draft picks when the Pens selected him 5th overall in 2002. The 2002 draft wasn't a very strong or deep draft (compared to future years like 2003 when almost every first round pick became an All-Star caliber player), so playing revisionist history, it's hard to say the Pens could have made a better choice.
Guys like Scottie Upshall (currently on a tryout with St. Louis) and Joffrey Lupul have bounced around a lot, they likely wouldn't have stayed in Pittsburgh this long. Perhaps Keith Ballard for longevity would have been a better pick, with hindsight, however Whitney at his peak was a more gifted player.
Sadly that peak didn't last long for Whitney, and the Penguins traded him at precisely the right time in February 2009 in exchange for Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi.
Whitney's NHL career can be broken down to his Pittsburgh days and his post-Pittsburgh injury plagued ones.
With Pittsburgh: 253 games played, 34 goals, 116 assists, 150 points, plus 19g+58a on the power play
After Pittsburgh: 228 games played, 16 goals, 93 assists, 109 points, plus 5g+41a on the power play
A lot of Whitney's success, as you can see, came with the Pittsburgh's power play, with his trademark being sneaking in from the point and finishing a pass from Sidney Crosby for something of an easy looking goal, if only because of the skill of Crosby and the timing of Whitney. However, as we've seen since Whitney left Pittsburgh, this little play hasn't worked very well with future, showing that it's not to easy re-create.
And, of course, there's Game 5 of the 2008 Stanley Cup final, where after an injury to Sergei Gonchar, the Pens had to lean on Whitney. Aside from Marc-Andre Fleury, Whitney was the Penguins best player in the game, a do-or-die elimination game, at that.
It's one of my favorite stat-lines
50:46 played (more than 7 minutes more than the closest teammate), a +2 (and also on ice for the PP GWG by Petr Sykora), 3 shots on goal, 2 hits and 2 blocked shots. A Herculean night.
It was always a little sad that guys like Whitney, Gary Roberts and Ryan Malone - guys who were such keys in 2008, weren't with the Pens in 2009 when they did win the Cup.
As fate would play out, Whitney's contribution was coming to the Pens organization in 2004 when they were among the worst teams in the league, and leaving in 2009 just before they won a championship. He helped the team along the way, and was used to bring a very productive forward in Kunitz, who continues to help the Pens. It probably wasn't the career he hoped for or the Pens either, but that's life sometimes, and Whitney certainly had his moments of importance to help Pittsburgh along the way.