Blues plan to take a long look at Whitney on defense

News-DemocratSeptember 17, 2013 

— Even before defenseman Alex Pietrangelo ended his contract holdout, St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and general manager Doug Armstrong insisted veteran defenseman Ryan Whitney would get a legitimate shot at a roster spot.

Brought to training camp on a pro tryout contract, the 30-year-old from Boston is trying to take that opportunity and run with it.

"I didn't expect anything to be given to me and that's how I've got to approach everything," said Whitney, who had four goals and 13 points in 34 games with Edmonton last season. "It's up to me to play well."

Even though he's only 30 and just 11 years removed from being the fifth overall pick in the 2002 draft, Whitney realizes his career is at a crossroads.

"I just appreciate them giving me a fair chance with what they've told me," Whitney said. "That's really all you can ask for and after that it's up to me to play well in these exhibition games. I'm as focused as I've ever been because your career's kind of on the line when you come to camp on a tryout."

Whitney is scheduled to play four exhibition games and on Wednesday will be paired with defense prospect Jani Hakanpaa when the Blues take on Tampa Bay in Orlando, Fla.

Also in the lineup will be Ian Cole, who is competing with Whitney for the final vacant defense spot. Cole is also a former first-round pick.

Early in the camp, the Blues like what they have seen from Whitney.

"I think the style that the Oilers play is certainly different than the style we play," Armstrong said. "We think that he can maybe play in our structure with a little more ease than the Oilers' structure. He's a big man, he's a former top pick, he's got experience.

"He's still a young man in that this isn't his swan song."

Whitney agreed, still believing he has lot of miles left on his NHL odometer. He finished up a six-year, $24 million contract at the end of last season and despite being an unrestricted free agent found no guaranteed offers.

The offensive defenseman has 50 goals and 259 career points in 474 games. He had 12 goals and 40 points as recently as 2007-08 with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but underwent ankle surgery in January, 2011.

"It's tough. It's kind of starting over," Whitney said. "For me it's obviously frustrating, the summer didn't go as I'd planned when free agency started. You've got to rebound and show your character.

"I know I can play in this league and I'm just going to have to prove it now."

Whitney is trying to quickly soak in the Blues' system of rapid puck movement and transition from defense to offense.

"For me, it's about making the easy play and being solid," Whitney said, "doing everything they talk about wanting their defensemen to do: getting up in the play and moving it quick. I appreciate them giving me a real chance and I've just got to go take advantage of it."

Whitney isn't looking back on his final season with the Oilers.

"I had a slow start, the lockout probably hurt me by not playing," he said. "But I played some real good games down the stretch; then I ended up sitting some games and realized they didn't want me back there. I was scratched a bit and that was frustrating, but that's all behind me.

"I haven't thought about last year once since I got here, it's a new beginning. (The Blues) weren't prepared to offer me a contract, but they said come in and show what you've got and maybe that can happen."

Blues vs. Tampa Bay

The Blues will play their second preseason exhibition game at 6 p.m. Thursday in Orlando, Fla., against Tampa Bay.

Brian Elliott will be the starter in goal and the top two forward lines include Blues newcomer Derek Roy centering Jaden Schwartz and Chris Stewart and Vladimir Sobotka centering top prospects Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin.

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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