Theo Peckham was drafted in 2006. He's played 174 professional games after a full junior career with the Owen Sound Attack. Thirty-one of those have been in the National Hockey League. He turns twenty-three in November. He's been around longer than it feels like he's been around. Still a prospect, certainly, but no longer an unblooded youngster fresh to the professional ranks. Peckham's done a few loops of the minor league circuit and he's had more than a cup of coffee in the big show. While he's not as good as he's going to get, we should at least have a fairly good idea what he is by now.
Unfortunately, I don't think he's all that much.
Did you know Peckham hasn't finished a season even or better since 2004-05? And he hasn't played exclusively on awful teams either: the Owen Sound Attack made the playoffs every year Peckham played for them and even won a round in 2005-06, a playoff run in which Peckham somehow contrived to score seven points and finish -3. His numbers in Springfield have tended to be bad even for the Falcons, and his stints in the NHL have been both numerically ineffective and rather unpleasant to watch as well. Some of it's just inexperience, but more of it appears to be simple physical inadequacy. He's not fast enough. He hasn't got the strength or agility to make up for it when he gets blown by. He can chuck knuckles but that hasn't helped him in the least. He's got a nice shot from the point which could make him an effective powerplay asset if he ever stopped blowing his brains out at even strength.
We all know that it takes defensemen a little time to round into form. More than one team has been burned by trading its hard-hitting blueliners before they were ready. The New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs both learned this lesson, to their cost, with Jason Smith. We're currently in the process of learning it with Matt Greene, although the "Lubomir Visnovsky" thing rather dulls the pain of that trade. Peckham's still young and still has lots of miles left, but unlike Greene or Smith he isn't showing any signs of improvement. Will he ever be more than an American Leaguer who gets NHL callups when someone's hurt or the team is terrible? And if not, why should we be saving a roster spot for this guy?
As you can see from our ratings, the Copper & Blue board of excellent people is beginning to lose faith in Peckham. Only Jonathan Willis puts Peckham in his top ten and Derek (poor, optimistic Derek) is the only other one to have Peckham in his top fifteen. Scott and Bruce actually make me look positively optimistic on Theo's future, which is a rare thing. On the other hand, back in February I ranked Peckham fourth and said "If I could bet on any Oiler prospect who would definitely have an NHL career, Peckham would be worth laying money on."
He did wind up getting his NHL shot, of course, and looked absolutely terrible. And the more the season wore on the less and less I was impressed with Peckham's seemingly complete lack of development. He wound up playing fifteen games with the Oilers last year, having also played fifteen games the year before, and I was at a loss trying to find a way in which the extra time had improved Peckham one whit.
Of course the Falcons were an awful team and a difficult place to learn the hockey trade. But a large part of that awfulness was that too few of its core players were delivering. Peckham was expected to be the Falcons' best defenseman last year and he didn't even come close to keeping his head above water. He was passed (in the minds of the organization, if nobody else) by Taylor Chorney, and passed in the hearts of all righteous observers by the surprisingly poised Alex Plante. Johan Motin is bearing up hard behind him and may already be ahead. Somebody of Peckham's age and professional experience should be establishing himself on an NHL roster, not losing ground to players two years younger.
This season, Theo Peckham's greatest advantage is the waiver situation. In spite of signing a two-way contract (and what a contract - kudos to Tambellini for pulling that off), Peckham is eligible for waivers and will presumably start the year as one of the seven and a half defensemen on the Oilers roster. One has to believe that Peckham will see a lot of press box time unless somebody gets hurt, but since somebody will get hurt he'll probably receive more NHL experience out of this. It's certainly bad news for Motin and Plante, who will be unlikely to get called up unless so many defensemen are hurt the dressing room looks like a scene in Alien. But since this is the Oilers, they shouldn't have to wait longer than December for that to happen.
As Taylor Chorney could tell us, all the NHL ice time in the world doesn't mean anything if you physically can't do it. It appears more and more that Theo Peckham physically can't do it. If he surprises me I'll be delighted, but right now I'm not seeing the next Jason Smith, I'm seeing the next Dan Smith.