Thursday, September 12, 2013

Whitney aims to win job with Blues

Veteran blue liner in camp on professional
tryout basis, is unrestricted free agent

ST. LOUIS -- Ryan Whitney understands the deck is stacked against him.

But the veteran defenseman, who spend the last four seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, is intent on earning his way into a job with the Blues this season after being invited to training camp on a professional tryout basis.

The 30-year-old Whitney, who general manager Doug Armstrong brought in to add depth in the absence of restricted free agent Alex Pietrangelo, is still without a contract. He comes in after completing a six-year, $24-million contract originally signed with the Anaheim Ducks. Whitney is an unrestricted free agent and has gone unsigned thus far.

Defenseman Ryan Whitney is in Blues camp looking to earn a contract.
But coming into St. Louis, Whitney hopes to latch on with the Blues and fortify an already deep unit at the top of the defensive unit.

"It's a really good team that has a ton of depth," Whitney said after his first practice. "To the naked eye, it might not be a good place because they have such good defensemen, but for me, I'm just kind of looking to establish myself again and do whatever I can to kind of make this team. Whether I start off as the seventh defenseman ... if it takes a lot of work to get in the lineup and play, I want to be here and I'm looking forward to it.

"I'm not coming in looking to kind of hopefully make it. I'm planning on being a part of the team. It's up to me to just play well and prove that I can."

Whitney, a left-handed shot who is 6-foot-4 and weighs 210-pounds, finished with four goals and 13 points in 34 games for the Oilers last season. And after not being able to attract any feelers this summer with a new contract, it's sort of like going back to square-one for the eight-year veteran.

"Obviously it was a little disappointing," Whitney said. "It's no lie, you want to get a contract every summer, but things didn't work out so it's kind of just about starting over.

"I really want to be a part of a good team and this is a team that really has a good chance to win the Cup. If I can make this team, it's going to be good for me and for my career moving forward. ... It's a team that everyone kind of hates to play against and wants to play for. For me, I was excited when I got the chance to come here."

And Whitney's take on his first practice with the Blues?

"The first session was tough," he said. "After the summer of ... no matter how much you bag yourself, once you start get hitting involved, it just takes away your energy. Everyone felt better as everything went along and it'll be good to get these next few days going."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock liked Whitney's presence and commended him for his attitude and condition he's in despite living without a contract.

"I think for us what shocked us was ... it's hard to be in shape if you don't really know if you're going to play somewhere," Hitchcock said. "It's hard to get in elite shape. I think the numbers that we've seen from him are pretty impressive right now. The body fat numbers, the conditioning numbers, we'll see on the endurance numbers here in the next couple days, but it's been impressive so far.

"If we can provide him some structure and get some discipline play where he doesn't have to do everything, he can just stay at home and play there. I think he's got good puck skills ... and he shoots bombs back there. He can help. ... Whitney for me was a guy that surprised us with his ability to stay with things today."

Whitney, who is also a Boston University product like the Blues' Kevin Shattenkirk, has been friends with Shattenkirk and is quite familiar with T.J. Oshie from the last Olympic orientation camp and has skated with him in Minnesota, also was a teammate of David Backes for USA at the Olympics in Vancouver.

Whitney knows anything can happen once Pietrangelo signs a contract and rejoins the Blues but has a firm understanding of his opportunity after talking to Armstrong.

"When I talked to Doug when he invited me, he said this isn't just because Pietrangelo hasn't been signed," Whitney said. "We need depth. He was by no means saying I was going to make the team, but he was also saying that they know even when he's here, they're going to need a lot of defensemen.

Ryan Whitney (6) listens to coach Ken Hitchcock with fellow teammates
during training camp Thursday.

"They've got three or four guys that are going to be playing in the Olympics. That's a long year with a lot of games crunched into time, so they're going to need depth and hopefully I can play well enough to be here."

Barret Jackman has faced Whitney enough times to know that if the Blues chose to go this route, he'd make a good addition.

"He's a guy that can play a lot of minutes," Jackman said of Whitney. "He's got great offensive ability. He's a big body. too. He's strong on the ice. He's a guy that will definitely fit in with the group that we have and will be a great addition if that's the route Army takes."

Whitney will just take it day by day and look to play his cards right. He's not ready to go down the avenue of a two-way contract.

"No, I don't want to go to that yet," Whitney said. "You never know what it's going to take.

"I think I'm still an NHL defenseman and that's what I'm looking forward to being."

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