Theo Peckham accepted his qualifying offer on Monday, and has been a bit of an afterthought for the Oilers. He showed potential in 2010-11, and one of his teammates should give him hope for returning to form.
As a rookie in 2006-07 Ladislav Smid was thrust directly into the frying pan that is the NHL. He averaged 19:14 of playing time per night; 16:02 of which came at even strength. Though there were bumps in the road, Smid showed well enough in 77 games to figure into the long-term future of the Oilers.
Things changed quickly for Smid in 2007-08, after he was cut in training camp and then saw his ice time drop to 17:51 per game and 15:08 at even strength after being recalled. He appeared in just 65 games for the Oilers that year, and suddenly his future was not so clear. It took Smid six seasons and over 400 games to cement himself as a legitimate top-four defenseman.
Theo Peckham has followed a similar path. He was steady and punishing in 2010-11, averaging 18:35 per night and 15:58 at even strength. After a shakier showing in 2011-12 his ice time dipped to 16:52 per game and 14:08 when the teams were even. Peckham is a veteran of just 156 NHL games to this point in his career, which means that he's less than half as experienced as Smid. Learning to play sound defense away from the puck is one of the hardest things to do in hockey, which is why it's not uncommon for young, purely defensive players to take a step back.
Of course, Smid had the good fortune of not only being a former first round pick, but also being part of the Chris Pronger trade. That meant that he was always going to get lots of opportunity to show what he could do, and it was that opportunity that allowed him to learn the NHL game. Will Peckham have a similar grace period?
The Oilers now have eight NHL-ready defensemen under contract for next season, and while it is possible that they carry all eight into the season, it's unlikely. Management has stated a desire to improve the back end, and if they do so a trade involving one of the eight current defenders is inevitable. Theo Peckham may draw the short straw.
If Peckham does end up moving out of town, it would be premature to say that he's a player that the Oilers won't miss. Not so long ago Ladislav Smid was viewed as a spare part by virtually everyone, and now he's an indispensable part of the blue line. Peckham is far from a sure thing in the greatest league in the world, but one bad season doesn't mean that he won't make it in the NHL. 2012-13 will be the season for him to show that he has what it takes.