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May 27, 2009
Ice Actions
Ryan Whitney Re-Emerges

by Andrew Rothstein

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Previously, I dubbed Ryan Whitney as a potential star in the making. The Boston University graduate was identified by the Puck Prospectus Similarity Score Index as having a comparable career path to Hall of Famer Larry Robinson. It’s not surprising that these two would be compared to one another after their age 22 to age 24 seasons:

Ryan Whitney
Age     GP  G A PTS  PIM
Age 21  DID NOT PLAY  
Age 22  68  6 32 38  85
Age 23  81 14 45 59  77
Age 24  76 12 28 40  45

Larry Robinson
Age     GP  G  A PTS PIM
Age 21  36  2  4  6  20
Age 22  78  6 20 26  66
Age 23  80 14 47 61  76
Age 24  80 10 30 40  59

While the Penguins are now only four victories away from winning the Stanley Cup, Whitney got to experience a resurgence of his former self by helping the Anaheim Ducks obtain the final seed in the Western Conference and upset the President Trophy winning San Jose Sharks in the first round. This is a feat that, a month prior to the end of the season, seemed nearly impossible. Upon returning from a 31 game absence earlier in the year, Whitney posted a disappointing – 1.6 GVT, which included a Penguin team worst – 2.6 Defensive GVT for the defenseman. This is certainly a ranking that Whitney should have been embarrassed by before he was dealt away from the Penguins two months ago. Since the deal that landed him in Anaheim in exchange for Left Wingers Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi, Whitney has turned around his Defensive GVT significantly. Perhaps he was still experiencing the lingering effects of his chronic foot injury in Pittsburgh, but his defense drastically improved by + 3.6 Defensive GVT to a + 1.0 Defensive GVT in only a period of two months.

Now that the regular season has been completed, we can take a look at how Whitney compares to the rest of his Similarity Score Index comparables, which includes former Canadien great Larry Robinson:

Player           Year    GP   G  A   PTS  PIM   GP    G   A   PTS   PIM
Larry Robinson   1976    77   19 66  85   45   1110  176  649 825   572
Moe Mantha       1988    46   4  14  18   43   193   15   59  74    112
Dick Redmond     1973    76   17 42  59   69   594   109  238 347   370
Bryan Berard     1999    64   3  27  30   42   393   45   150 195   307
Jyrkie Lumme     1995    80   17 37  54   50   551   66   176 242   306
Brad McCrimmon   1987    80   7  35  42   98   627   29   133 162   736
Dave Pichette    1986    DID NOT PLAY     DID NOT PLAY
Larry Murphy     1984    79   13 42  55   51   1301  222  741 963   779
Dick Redmond     1976    80   22 25  47   30   385   69   126 195   186
Alexei Kasatonov 1992    64   3  14  17   57   171   9    48  57    152

The Similarity Score Index works by finding the top comparables of the player in question, Ryan Whitney in this instance, over the span of that particular player’s career. The numbers listed in the middle of the table represent how Ryan Whitney’s top comparables did the year after the Similarity Score Index match. So, for example, Moe Mantha was a top comparable of Ryan Whitney up until last year. His 1988-1989 season represents a possible career path for Whitney for the current 2008-2009 season as does the 1976-1977 season of Larry Robinson.

On the season, Whitney played only 48 Games, so the sample size is a bit small to use. Also, after consulting with Baseball Prospectus’ Will Carroll, Whitney’s injury is most likely a fluke that shouldn’t hinder his performance in future seasons. However, given that the Similarity Score Index takes durability into account, we’ll use several comparables from this list based on three different scenarios to see what should be expected of Ryan Whitney for the 2009-2010 season:

  • The first situation will include Whitney’s foot injury in searching for his top comparable for the 2008-2009 season;
  • The second scenario will discount his injury by assuming it was a fluke, but assume that the injury didn't impact his other 48 games on the season, which could now be used as an indicator of what Whitney would had done had he stayed healthy over the course of 82 games for the 2008-2009 season. This 82 game projection could then be used to find a top comparable for the 2008-2009 season, which could be used to project Whitney's 2009-2010 season;
  • The third scenario will chalk up Whitney’s injury-ridden year to a fluke season like scenario two, but Whitney's 48 games played from this season will be excluded and assumed to have been affected by his lingering foot injury. As a result, top comparable Larry Robinson’s career path will be used to project Whitney's statistics going forward.

Scenario 1

Taking into account the chronic foot injury, with 48 Games Played, 2 Goals, 21 Assists, 23 Points and 28 Penalties In Minutes, Whitney drops far and away from any of his previous potential career paths. The closest players in the Similarity Score Index, Alexei Kasatonov (1992-1993) and Moe Mantha (1988-1989), also represent the lower end, 10th percentile career path possibilities for Ryan Whitney. In other words, Whitney might not last in the NHL long enough for it to be worthwhile to project his career.

Scenario 2

Another scenario, one more likely, is that the former Penguins foot injury won’t have an impact on his production for future seasons. If we were to project Whitney’s season based on a little over half of a season, we would see his production rise to 82 Games, 3 Goals, 36 Assists, 42 Points and 48 Penalties In Minutes. All of a sudden, Brad McCrimmon starts to look like a good comparable for Whitney next season in this situation. The Detroit Red Wings Assistant Coach was a decent hockey player who produced consistently up until his age 29 season, when his production significantly dropped off save his Penalties In Minutes. Let’s take a look at how Ryan Whitney’s number look for next year, at age 26, based on Brad McCrimmon’s career path:

Ryan Whitney
Age     GP  G A PTS  PIM
Age 21  DID NOT PLAY  
Age 22  68  6 32 38  85
Age 23  81 14 45 59  77
Age 24  76 12 28 40  45
Age 25  82  3 36 42  48
Age 26  82  5 44 55  50

Brad McCrimmon
Age     GP  G A PTS PIM
Age 21  78 11 18 29 148
Age 22  78  1  8  9  83
Age 23  79  4 21 25  61
Age 24  71  0 24 24  76
Age 25  66  8 35 43  81
Age 26  80 13 43 56  85

Not a bad projection for the Anaheim defenseman for the 2009-2010 season, though it’s highly unlikely that he’ll end up playing every single game of the regular season. Given that his Goals for the 2008-2009 season seem low, it’s not surprising to see that this represents his 40th percentile projection for this year. Let’s take a look at one final scenario.

Scenario 3

If Whitney’s injury is a fluke, but it had an impact on his play this season, then the best data to base a projection off of is his previous three seasons in the National Hockey League. If his top comparable was Larry Robinson going into this season, what would the Massachusetts native’s statistics look like for the 2009-2010 season using the Hall of Famer’s career path?

Ryan Whitney
Age     GP  G A PTS  PIM
Age 21  DID NOT PLAY  
Age 22  68  6 32 38  85
Age 23  81 14 45 59  77
Age 24  76 12 28 40  45
Age 25  73 23 62 85  34
Age 26  76 16 49 65  30

Larry Robinson
Age     GP  G  A PTS PIM
Age 21  36  2  4  6  20
Age 22  78  6 20 26  66
Age 23  80 14 47 61  76
Age 24  80 10 30 40  59
Age 25  77 19 66 85  45
Age 26  80 13 52 65  39

By tacking this season off to injury woes, Ryan Whitney would have been expected to have a breakout year, reaching his 75th percentile projection for the 2008-2009 campaign based on the Similarity Score Index. Even though there would be a projected drop off for the 2009-2010 season, Whitney would still be on a path to stardom as the hockey equivalent of the PECOTA Stars & Scrubs chart at the end of last week's Mailbag would have labeled him a STAR.

Most likely, Whitney would not have continued down the path of his top comparable after this season, given how phenomenal of a player Robinson was. However, he isn’t likely to turn into Moe Mantha either and become a fringe, borderline regular skater. I would expect to see the Anaheim defenseman fall between scenarios 2 and 3 with about 78 Games Played, 12 Goals, 47 Assists, 60 Points and 40 Penalties In Minutes for the 2009-2010 season.

Andrew Rothstein is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Andrew by clicking here or click here to see Andrew's other articles.

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