Theo Peckham's strong NHL debut has finally done something that two years toiling against top opponents for a miserable Springfield Falcons team couldn't: propelled him into the top-10 of Copper & Blue's Top-25 Under-25.
The first thing mentioned on any Theo Peckham scouting report should be attitude. He's mean. Don't get me wrong - I'm still a numbers & data person, a guy who espouses evaluation of performance over physical talent - but I love that. I love watching a rookie come in and beat the crap out of noted weasel Claude Lemieux. I like a defenceman who plays the game just a little bit dirty and doesn't back down from anyone. Theo Peckham is all of those things. His 127 hits through 46 games easily lead all Oilers blueliners, his 84 blocked shots is behind only perennial leader Tom Gilbert, and his four major penalties are as many as every other Oilers defenceman combined. He's a throwback player, the kind of guy who would have been just fine playing in an earlier, nastier era, and I'm pretty okay with that.
But all that nastiness is just the cherry topping on the ice cream sundae that is Theo Peckham's game.
I first really started to notice Peckham as an NHL prospect when I initially ran the AHL Quality of Competition Numbers for the Springfield Falcons in December of 2008. They indicated that Peckham was facing the best opposition players night after night, and given that he had one of the best plus/minus marks on that woeful Springfield team, I started to view him as a legitimate NHL prospect. At the end of the year, Peckham was still facing the best opponents, and still had one of the better plus/minus numbers on the team.
All told, Theo Peckham would play 84 games between 2008-10 for the Springfield Falcons, routinely playing the best opposition. He finished those two seasons of his Falcons career with a minus-17 rating, while the team as a whole went minus-169 during those years. Given the context of Peckham's ice-time, that's a positive indicator.
This year, Peckham has been forced to play much the same role, except at the NHL level. Among regular defencemen, only Jim Vandermeer (45.7% vs. 45.9%) has started a lower percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone. Peckham leads the team in both regular Quality of Competition and Relative Corsi-based Quality of Competition rankings. Despite that, his Relative Corsi ranking (-2.5) is just a hair below average. I'll say that again, without all the jargon: in his first season as an NHL regular, Peckham starts in his own end more than anyone, and faces the toughest opponents on the other team, and still doesn't get lit up any more regularly than the average Oilers defenceman. That's impressive.
He's been impressive neough to climb the depth chart, blowing by guys like Strudwick, Foster and Vandermeer, and even passing Ladislav Smid to claim a role as a top-four defenceman at even-strength. Overall, only Tom Gilbert and Ryan Whitney have played more minutes on the back end for the Oilers than Peckham.
This performance has seen Peckham jump six spots in our rankings, and has turned a host of skeptical observers into believers. On a quality team, I think Peckham's a successful third-pairing defenceman today, and given the typical development curve for defenceman there's little reason not to believe he can be a top-four option for years to come.
In closing, there is one more positive worth mentioning about Theo Peckham: on a team blessed with plenty of 'ys' - i.e. Smitty, Jonesy, Strudsy and who knows what else, Theo Peckham is one of the few players with an awesome nickname, courtesy of Don Cherry himself.
What will Theo Peckham be at the peak of his career?
Top-pairing shutdown defenceman (46 votes)
Legitimate top-four defenceman (270 votes)
Third-pairing ruffian (66 votes)
Reserve guy (i.e. 'I haven't watched a 2010-11 game yet) (1 vote)
383 total votes