It's not often that a few weeks will drastically change my perception of any player for the good. Catastrophic injuries can change my valuation the other way, but in general, my opinions are like a slow boat to China. But that's exactly the case for Jeff Petry, the first - and perhaps only - player on this list that I can say with confidence is being underrated and deserves to be higher. His numbers through college were good but inconsistent and his start in the AHL was pretty rough. Although his offense picked up and his defense stabilized in the latter half of his stint with the Barons, it's been his play in the NHL that really has me second-guessing my original placement.
Derek has been on Petry's bandwagon all along, and deserves some credit for seeing what the rest of us didn't. A year ago, he had Petry fourth, five spots higher than anyone else, and in the summer he had Petry seventh, four spots higher than anyone else. Now he has Petry in a tie (that's the kind of indecision that could make him Steve Tambellini's right-hand man!) for fifth, once again at least four spots higher than the rest of us. So what gave Derek the edge? Here's his own account:
In what is a bit of a dirty little secret, my ranking on Petry was based on a whole bunch of "seen him good" and some second-hand scouting reports. When I watched Petry play during his final season at Michigan State, I saw an incredibly athletic defenseman with loads of skill. He moved like a forward and passed like one too.
I think the experience has been similar for many of us. Petry's numbers in the AHL were pretty underwhelming. In fact, he's still second-to-last on the team in +/- at -7, bettering only his partner, Shawn Belle. His offense was good, but eleven of his twenty-one points had been collected on the power play (2-9-11 compared to 5-5-10 at EV), and since the Oilers are under a curse whereby they never score on the power play, those skills wouldn't do the big club any good. It was a good rookie season in the AHL, but certainly not spectacular.
But since coming to Edmonton, Petry has been extremely impressive. He's playing almost seventeen minutes per night at EV, another three on the PP and some limited time on the PK as well. That's a lot more ice time than some of the veterans are seeing and a lot for a rookie defender at any time, and at this early stage, he looks fantastic. He's taken the role of "puckmover" on his pairing with Ladislav Smid, and seems very comfortable doing it. He's calm with the puck, skates well, and passes with aplomb. He's not particularly physical, but he's not afraid to engage physically either. The numbers are impressive too. Although he's been reasonably sheltered in terms of starting positions to this point, he's responded by nearly breaking even in terms of Corsi, which is a nice accomplishment for a rookie playing top four minutes. The offense hasn't quite come, but he's getting minutes on the power play, and should improve with time. In the end, there's a very good chance that Jeff Petry never plays another game in the AHL. The best part is, he's earned it.