Top 25 Under 25 - #5 Jeff Petry

Jonathan Daniel

At this time last year, Jeff Petry was miles behind where he is now, at least in terms of perception. He finished the first regular season of his pro career with the big club, but he played more often with the Barons than he did with the Oilers, and when the regular season was over, he joined the AHL team for the playoffs. It was a very good pro debut, and I thought it would be reasonable to pencil Petry into the lineup for 2011-12 alongside the newly re-signed Ladislav Smid... on the third pairing, of course.

As you all know, Petry and Smid did end up playing together, but was a little bit higher in the lineup than I'd imagined. Petry and Smid are now penciled in as the shut-down pairing for this team in 2012-13, and it's quite reasonable to think that they can do an adequate job. Jeff Petry has come a long way.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Alan
Ben
Bruce
DB
Derek
Jon Ryan Scott
5 Jeff Petry 1987-12-09
45 2006
5 6 6 6 3 5 4 6

Previous Rank: 6

We all like Petry, but some of us really like him. Derek, for example, has always liked Petry and now has him higher than at least one of the first overall picks:

Even though the Oilers used their typical development strategy and put Petry in situations that should've been too much for him to handle, Petry played extremely well through last year, even while facing top competition. He was regularly ragged on for his turnovers, but when handling the puck 80+% of the time, turnovers are going to happen. The Oilers have a top-pairing defenseman capable of handling tough minutes and moving the puck really well, and he won't be 25 until December. Look at the Carle, Suter and Weber deals and you can see how valuable these guys are. If Petry were a year younger, I'd struggle not to rank him #1.

That's some high praise for a player with just 108 career NHL games. It's all true though. Petry ranked second in all three of Gabe's quality of competition measures (Goals, Corsi and Relative Corsi), behind only his regular partner, Ladislav Smid. Those of us who watched the games know that's about right, but sometimes numbers don't do as much for me as names. In the chart below, I've used Vic Ferrari's Time on Ice tool to show Petry's three most common forward opponents at even strength for each game during the 2011-12 season, along with the percentage of Petry's ice time they were on the ice for (click to enlarge):

Petry_medium

The highlighted dates are the games that included Tom Gilbert in the lineup, and while you might not say that Petry's ice time was downright soft during the first part of the year, there's a clear change in January once Gilbert is injured. Not only is the caliber of Petry's most common opponents much higher, but he's clearly being used as a matching option much more frequently. In the first 31 games, Petry had at least 50% of his ice time against one opposing forward just 4 times. In the next 42 games, that happened 27 times. When Gilbert was injured, Petry's role changed.

Interestingly, it didn't change back when Gilbert returned from injury, and the reason for that became clear when Gilbert was traded to Minnesota. It's a bit scary that the club made the call that Petry could take over Gilbert's old job based on a strong showing in about twenty-five games, but I suppose the fact that Nick Schultz was the player coming back mitigates the risk (since Schultz has played tough opposition in the past).

So how did Petry perform in this stretch against tougher opposition? In those 42 games after Gilbert's injury (beginning with the Buffalo game on January 3rd), tthe Oilers had an even strength Goals Percentage of 50.0% (+30 -30), a Shots Percentage of 49.1% (+372 -386), a Fenwick Percentage of 49.9% (+524 -527), and a Corsi Percentage of 48.9% (+712 -745) when Petry was on the ice. With the score tied, those numbers worsen to 25.0% (+5 -15), 48.0% (+153 -166), 48.3% (+219 -234), and 48.3% (+294 -315). If you believe strongly in shot quality, there might be something to worry about in there, but given the overall quality of the Oilers, those possession numbers are very strong for a young player thrust into very difficult circumstances.

When you add to that some of the other things that Petry does well (among the sixty top-scoring defenders at even strength last season, just twenty-six penalty minutes), it looks like the Oilers have a very good player on their hands. My biggest concern at this point is that the results have come in such a small sample. Petry might continue to get better, but he might also take a step back. I think it's more likely that we see the former, but because I'm not quite convinced that he's established at last season's level of performance, I still have him a touch below the team's top young forwards.

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