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Oilers welcome back Whitney for Battle of Alberta

Chicago Black Hawks v Edmonton Oilers

EDMONTON, CANADA - NOVEMBER 17: Ryan Whitney #6 of the Edmonton Oilers warms up prior to the game against the Chicago Black Hawks on November 17, 2010 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)

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Ryan Whitney will make his long-anticipated return to the Oilers lineup tonight.

The Edmonton faithful have been waiting on this for almost a full calendar year. Last December, a busted ankle derailed Whitney’s promising campaign -- he was averaging over 25 minutes a game and on pace for 60-plus points. The injury also exposed Edmonton’s lack of blueline depth as the likes of Kurtis Foster, Jim Vandermeer, Jason Strudwick and Taylor Chorney were forced into increased roles.

As for this year -- let’s just say Whitney’s being welcomed back with open arms.

Through four games, Edmonton’s gotten virtually zero production from its back end. The only defensemen with points are Tom Gilbert (one assist) and Corey Potter (ditto). The unit’s combined for just 31 shots on goal through four games. Comparatively, San Jose D Brent Burns has 19 shots himself through four games.

That’s why Whitney’s return is such a big deal. There’s a real sense of optimism around the Oilers given how well the forwards have played and how “not terrible” the goaltending has been, so it’s quite possible the defense could be the deciding factor. If Whitney can give Edmonton any consistent production from the blueline, the Oilers might hang around the playoff picture longer than expected.