Some players, no matter how hard they try or how well they constantly perform, go through their careers as under-appreciated and overlooked athletes. While the same superstars hog the spotlight year in and year out, their media attention is in stark contrast to others who silently finish their shifts on a positive note.
Take Kimmo Timonen for example, a defenseman for the Philadelphia Flyers who is lauded by teammates and opponents alike. It’s his 13th year in the National Hockey League and yet he is still somehow hidden from the microphones and televisions too routinely. Maybe it’s his 5-foot-10 frame that makes him hard to find in a crowded dressing room. Maybe the reporters want to interview those with last names that do not have to be double-checked for spelling. We can’t all have fancy, simple names like Mike Richards and Bobby Ryan.
Although he may not mind his underrated label, it is unjust for a hardy veteran to be so overshadowed by better-known players. Perhaps Zdeno Chara will have improved Timonen’s publicity after he was the first rearguard to be hand-picked by the Slovakian’s team in this year’s All-Star Fantasy Draft. But the Finn is merely one of many.
Then there is Ray Whitney.
It’s been a lengthy and distinguishable career for the 39-year-old. How long you might ask? At the 1991 Entry Draft, he was the second person to ever be drafted by the newly-created (at the time) San Jose Sharks. It was a few years with that organization, where his games played in a single year ranged from two to 61, before Whitney moved on. However, he would be forced to accept similar occurrences as the years passed by him.
Beginning with the Sharks and ending with his current club, the Phoenix Coyotes, the diminutive winger has represented a total of seven teams. Some might pine about being forced to pick up the pieces in a new city this often, but Whitney worked through these transitions the same way he seems to accomplish everything else: quietly.
It’s not that he’s been ultra effective where ever he’s played,–okay it is that too–but it’s how comfortably he adjusts his game to every system and becomes an integral part of it. Dubbed as the Wizard while with the Florida Panthers, he really began to make his mark around that time coincidentally. Twice, he paced the Panthers in point production and as for the third year, only the newly-acquired Pavel Bure surpassed Whitney’s totals–quite the compliment to say the least.
The list goes on: Columbus’ best performer through a two-year stint which transpired just before Rick Nash’s Rocket Richard sharing triumph, a respectable season in Detroit where a plethora of stars limited his ice time, a Stanley Cup in his first of five campaigns with the Carolina Hurricanes and finally, the inspirational play in Phoenix that is going on as we speak.
It befuddles the mind that Whitney’s been casually excused by his employers more than once, despite his natural and sought-after skills. By that, we’re referring to his patience, anticipation and vision; three qualities that are hard to come by. He likes to set himself up on the side of the net on a powerplay, as he has a knack for calmly waiting and finding an open teammate. His movement is nothing to snark at either because while the feet do not look to be moving very quickly, he gets around the ice adequately.
Ideally, every team should have a creative spark and Whitney is that kind of player. Why the Carolina Hurricanes let him walk away in 2010 is unknown because he was their inventive forward and they haven’t managed to replace him as of yet. With Whitney on the roster, they were usually a bubble team in the worst case scenario. Now, they’re a bubble team at best.
Owning a birthday that doubles those of some the teenagers in the league, Whitney certainly does not give the image of an older player. He’s what you’d call ageless. Teemu Selanne and Nicklas Lidstrom receive most of the accolades in this regard, although the Wizard is equally remarkable. Sure, he doesn’t own a 76-goal rookie year or multiple Norris Trophies, but his numbers speak volumes.
It should come as no surprise that Whitney has almost gathered 300 more assists than he has goals because that unselfishness has always been easy to notice. Shane Doan’s first ever National Hockey League hat-trick was completed earlier this year thanks in large part to Whitney. Waiting and waiting, he kept the New York Islanders’ defensemen away from the puck and gave Doan enough time to catch up for a buzzer-beating tally that gave him the ever-elusive third.
Phoenix ended the month of February with an amazing 11-0-1 record and goaltender Mike Smith was named the first star of the month. As for Whitney, he provided 15 points during that phase and yet, there was little to no mention of it. And in a season that’s shined a light on Radim Vrbata’s goal-scoring touch and Keith Yandle’s All-Star Game showing, their older teammate has remained a silent source of competence.
All of that should change in due time.
Approaching the milestone of 1,000 career points, Whitney’s pace has a possibility of getting him there this season. If not, he will definitely reach the number the following year, as he’s sure to be re-signed by Phoenix in the summer. His current price tag and salary cap hit of $3 million dollars should make negotiations simple.
Once Whitney achieves the feat that only 78 other players have, it’ll be his turn to receive praise from teammates. The moment will mark a role reversal, as the distributor of so many goals will now be the one taking in the glory.
Although his career is often interpreted as one that’s been neglected and reserved, nobody can ignore a number like 1,000.
Originally, Ray Whitney was called the Wizard for his abilities. While he’s still a magician on the ice, that he’s accomplished so much and asked for so little in return is the real act of wizardry.