Is Theo Peckham One Injury Away From Becoming Doug Lynch?

Ex13 via wikimedia commons

A look back to 2010.

Editor's Note: This story was originally published in October, 2010.

There was a time when Doug Lynch was the second-best prospect in the Edmonton organization and one of the most sure-fire defensive prospects in the game.  In Junior, Lynch played for the Red Deer Rebels during the Brent Sutter era.  As a seventeen-year-old, he played on a team that finished the regular season with 114 points, fourteen more than any other team in the league, and stormed to the WHL Championship, winning twelve playoff games and losing only four.  Red Deer went on to defeat Val D'Or in the finals of the Memorial Cup, 6-5, on an overtime goal scored by Lynch.  Drafted nineteen-year-olds Justin Mapletoft (120) and Kyle Wanvig (101) both broke 100 points, soon-to-be first-round pick Colby Armstrong potted 36 goals and the Washington Capitals selected 28 goal-scorer Ross Lupaschuk in the second round.  Lynch contributed 12 goals and 37 assists.  The Rebels were also a feisty bunch, with five players, including Lynch, finishing with more than 180 penalty minutes, led by Wanvig's 202.

The Rebels featured fifteen players that had been or would eventually be drafted by NHL teams, including four first-round picks.  At the end of the season the 6'3'' 200 lb. Lynch was ranked 23rd among North American skaters by Central Scouting, one spot behind Jason Pominville and two sports in front of Derek Roy, and Red Line Report ranked Lynch 9th among defensemen in the draft.  Lynch was a mountain of a man by the age of eighteen, capable of dealing out physical punishment with his fists and open-ice hits, and he was also capable of delivering punishment of another sort on the scoreboard.  Lynch was selected 43rd overall by Edmonton, thirty picks after the Oilers selected Ales Hemsky.

Edmonton returned him to Red Deer for the 2001-2002 season and Lynch responded.  The Rebels lost their top scorers with the exception of Armstrong, and dropped from first in goals to seventh.  Sutter remade the team into a pack of defensive demons protecting netminder Cam Ward.  Lynch finished the year with 21 goals and 27 assists to go with 202 penalty minutes and Red Deer again led the WHL with 100 points.  The Rebels returned to the WHL Championship, but lost three overtime games to Kootenay and fell 4-2.  Lynch would spend one more season in the WHL, traded half-way through the 2002-2003 season to the Spokane Chiefs.

In 2003, Lynch joined the Edmonton minor league traveling roadshow; that year it was called the Toronto Roadrunners. His debut season as a professional was outstanding.  With Jeff Beukeboom grooming the now 6'3" 215 lb blueliner, Lynch was selected to play in the AHL All-Star game, and was named to the AHL All-Rookie team at the end of the year.  Lynch posted 11 goals and 25 assists in 74 games and was highly regarded throughout the NHL.

Then, as it often does, dumb luck took control of Doug Lynch for awhile.  He suffered an injury sometime at the end of the 2004 season and had off-season wrist surgery.  Rather than spend time properly recovering and rehabilitating the wrist, Lynch chose to play hockey through the entire 2004-2005 season.  Working through the pain probably seemed like the manly thing to do at the time; hockey culture does, after all, glorify players who play through pain even when they're ineffective.  But for Doug Lynch, playing through the pain set in motion a chain of events from which he was never able to recover.

The wrist injury rendered Lynch completely ineffective on the ice.  His counting numbers fell to 1 goal and 13 assists, and he wasn't useful in any facet of the game - he was thrown completely off of the development curve.  When NHL play resumed in 2005, Kevin Lowe immediately traded him to the St. Louis Blues as part of the Chris Pronger trade.  Lynch would spend the next two seasons playing a largely unnoticeable game for St. Louis' AHL and ECHL affiliates.  After the 2006-2007 season, Lynch left North America for the Austrian League.  His best showing in North America had come when he was just twenty years old and he's never come back since leaving for Europe.  A single injury, and the handling of that injury, derailed the career of a promising Edmonton prospect, and there's a chance that it may happen again.

Theo Peckham was neither as sizable or as offensively gifted as Doug Lynch, but he came to prominence with the organization in a similar manner. Peckham was ranked 65th overall among North American skaters by Central Scouting and the Oilers drafted him in the third round, 75th overall out of the OHL.  Peckham was on an Owen Sound team that would never best the London Knights, but he was a defensive standout in a league devoted to the scoresheet.  Peckham, like Lynch, was also handy with his fists, and endeared himself to Attack fans - and later Falcons' fans - for his ability to throw haymakers with the best of them.

In the 2008-2009 season, Peckham's second in the AHL, he faced the toughest competition among defensemen on the Springfield Falcons, a team that finished 24-56.  He finished the year with a +/- rating of -7, which was bested only by Bryan Young who played bottom-pairing minutes.  Peckham's future looked very solid indeed.  A season like that in the AHL at age twenty-one is impressive, and on that basis, Jonathan and I ranked Peckham second among Oiler prospects (that list was prior to The Copper & Blue ranking all players under 25).

But just as with Lynch, injuries hit.  When Peckham reported to training camp last September, he was nursing an ankle injury suffered in the off-season.  His recovery period was extended into the season and Peckham ended up playing only 52 games between Springfield and Edmonton.  Both his NHL and AHL results suffered after coming back from the injury, and the conventional wisdom pointed to his ankle injury as the biggest issue.  Peckham came back to Springfield to play the tough minutes, but wasn't nearly as steady as he had been in the previous season.  In just 37 games he posted a -10 rating, compared to Cody Wild who posted a -11 in 37 games and Johan Motin who was -5 in 55 games.  Peckham contributed only 6 points last year after posting 6 goals and 13 assists in 47 games the year before.

Things only got worse when he was called up to the Oilers.  In his 15-game stint, he was on the ice for 12 goals against and only 5 goals for.  His scoring chance differential was among the worst on the team and his Corsi was plain awful.  To many observers Peckham looked slower than he had the year before.  His reflexes weren't crisp, and his agility was non-existent.  He still engaged in his regular trash talking and dropped the gloves once.  He had a marvelous game against Detroit, but still somehow finished -2.  His spirit was willing, but the flesh wasn't able.  And when his flesh was able, his decision-making was poor, like in this sequence against Minnesota:

Now Peckham is playing catchup.  He's not only trying to make up for lost time, he's trying to catch up to the other defensive prospects who all had a full year of healthy development time.  Taylor Chorney, Jeff Petry, and Alex Plante are all pushing him and all had better preseasons than Peckham.

Theo Peckham desperately needs a season unhindered by injury or the after-effects of injury.  With pressure from Oklahoma City, another lost season due to injury would all but end his chances in Edmonton.  Flaming out of the Oilers' organization is not a positive for career development, and like Doug Lynch, a lost season could find Peckham in Europe on the downside of a career that peaked far too soon.

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