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Whitney's a big part of Penguins' talent pool

by John McGourty / NHL.com

 

NHL.com's 2007-08 Penguins Season Preview Package:
Intro | Goalies | Defense | Forwards | Feature | Numbers | Sked | Roster

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney has great expectations for both himself and his team this season.

Like his team, Whitney had a breakout season in 2006-07, putting up 59 points on a club that posted the fourth-greatest improvement in NHL history. The Penguins were a surprise team last season. Whitney knows that won’t happen again.

"Nothing is going to be given to us,” he said of what awaits his team in 2007-08. “We have to stay focused and play hard, game-to-game, and hope to improve on last year.

"We have high expectations,” he said. “I was talking to a Pittsburgh reporter, Rob Rossi, and he was saying this year is a lot different because we didn't have these expectations last year. (Jordan) Staal and (Evgeni) Malkin were just coming in and Sidney Crosby was only in his second year. I don't think anyone could have predicted what we did in the regular season. This year is different because we are expected to do well and expected to win. That's a good thing. We need to know who can live up to expectations and play well under pressure on this team.”

Penguins' defenseman Ryan Whitney was a
main cog in the 47-point improvement the team earned last year by putting up 59 points.

Whitney rehabbed a wrist injury and got fit at Mike Boyle's gym in Wilmington, Mass., this summer. He knows the Penguins are coming off a season in which they improved by 47 points and are now considered by many as a Stanley Cup contender.

"I had surgery April 26 on my wrist and it feels good," he said. "I had the injury for four years and it kept getting worse. It wasn't a particular hit or anything. I saw the doctor for the final time this month and got a clean bill of health. It's 100 percent now. I'm shooting pucks and passing pucks, and that feels good.”

Whitney knows the Penguins are expecting continued improvement from him. They need him to be effective in all situations.

"I know there can be more improvement in my game," Whitney said. "Every time you step on the ice, you have to try to become a better player. The day you think you've made it is probably the day you should stop playing because there's always something to improve upon.”

Whitney’s offensive numbers could actually drop this season, but not through any fault of his.

"My role is changing a little this year,” he said. “We brought in Darryl Sydor, and (rookie) Kris Letang will play. Those two are power-play guys, so (Sergei) Gonchar and I won't be the only power-play defensemen anymore. That should give me more opportunity to play on the penalty kill and work on my defensive defenseman skills. I want to be a complete player, a good two-way player, and not be known any longer as just an offensive defenseman.

Whitney is most often paired with defensive-minded Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi, a pair of former Boston College defensemen. The ex-Eagles and Terrier have put aside their collegiate rivalries — though they probably don't watch the Beanpot Tournament together.

"I played with Orpik all last year after he came back from the hand surgery and we had a good rapport," Whitney said. "He stays back and is a physical guy. He plays strong and moves the puck well, which allows me to jump into the play. I thought we were good partners and a good pair for the team. Scuderi is just a really stable player who makes the smart play all the time. He's very dependable and plays hockey the way it should be played. Plus, he works very hard to be a good hockey player. Orpik, Scuderi and me, three Hockey East defensemen right there!”

Whitney will be on the ice with offensive stars like Crosby and Malkin, but he’ll also be playing in front of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. He's aware that not everyone thinks Fleury is ready to backstop a Stanley Cup champion — but begs to differ.

"We have to stay focused and play hard, game-to-game, and hope to improve on last year."
-- Ryan Whitney

"I don't think anyone is giving him the credit he deserves," Whitney said. "Last year, you look at his stats, he's right up there with Ryan Miller and the other top goalies in our conference. I could be mistaken but I don't think so. After Sidney Crosby, Fleury is the hardest-working member of our team. He's on the ice early every day and stays late. He'll take shots. He'll take one-timers from the slot that most goalies won't. He works his tail off and he's a great guy. We're confident with him, and I know he's the kind of goalie who can win us a Stanley Cup."

Though he’s only 24, the Boston native has put up an impressive list of accomplishments since leading the South Shore Kings to an international Pee Wee championship.

 

At age 16, Whitney starred for Thayer Academy, then spent a season with the United States National Team Development Program team in the United States Hockey League, during which he played in both the World Under-17 championship and the World championship for 18-year-olds. Three seasons at Boston University followed, during which he made two appearances for Team USA in the World Junior Championships.

Big things were expected of Whitney and his peers at Boston University, but they didn't have the success they expected. Whitney left school after three seasons and has played very well for Pittsburgh. Why is he doing better at a higher level?

"The players are more skilled and a lot of them are much stronger, but the NHL is more structured than college hockey," Whitney said. "You don't see guys running around, looking for big hits, like you do in college. You rarely see two men go to hit you in the corner. It's usually one guy goes in the corner with the defenseman and the other one is trapping.

"In a sense, it might be easier to play on the NHL level because the better the players you play with, the better you can play yourself. Down low, covering guys and the strength of those guys, it's more difficult in the NHL because they're stronger. But the overall game may be easier because of the structure at the pro level."

The Penguins picked Whitney fifth overall in the 2002 Entry Draft. He made the team for good in 2005-06 and was their fifth-leading scorer last season with 14 goals and 45 assists for 59 points in 81 games. In two NHL seasons, he has 20 goals and 77 assists for 97 points in 149 games.

NHL.com's 2007-08 Penguins Season Preview Package:
Intro | Goalies | Defense | Forwards | Feature | Numbers | Sked | Roster

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