PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins traded defenceman Ryan Whitney to the Anaheim Ducks for forward Chris Kunitz and a junior prospect, less than two seasons into a six-year, US$24 million contract that was supposed to make Whitney a key part of the Penguins’ future.
Whitney, who turned 26 last week, missed Wednesday’s night’s 1-0 win against the New York Islanders.
In Boston attending to a family matter, he said Thursday that he was excited to be going to the Ducks.
“It’s a new start and a team that I feel wants me,” Whitney said. “They gave up a good player and a real good prospect.
“Last season was great. We went to the Stanley Cup final and personally, I had a good playoff. Then, I had the foot problem and got that fixed, so I missed a lot of time.”
Ducks general manager Bob Murray said Whitney should play a vital role for Anaheim, which has been thin on defence.
“What he brings to the table is he is a big kid and can skate and move the puck,” Murray said. “The game is evolving and you better get the puck out of your own zone.
“Since (Francois) Beauchemin has been gone, all we’ve had is Chris (Pronger) and Scotty (Niedermayer), who are really good at moving the puck up the ice.
“Then (Kent) Huskins went down. In the game today, you have to move that puck up the ice. We have good forwards and you have to get the puck to the forwards. Whitney can do that.
“He also is very good on the power play. He can shoot the puck and sees the ice very well.”
Whitney, who is six-feet-four and 215 pounds, thought he might be dealt, then he got the news.
“To get the call that I was traded and that they are actually in town right now, it’s been pretty crazy,” he said, referring to the Ducks’ game Thursday night against the Bruins.
Whitney realizes he’ll have to make some adjustments to Southern California.
“I’ve always known cold weather with Boston and Pittsburgh,” he said. “Obviously, I’m going to have to buy some shorts.”
He has struggled since missing the first 33 games of this season following foot surgery. He has two goals and 11 assists and is a minus-15 in 28 games this season.
“I know that I can play better than I have this year and I think I will,” Whitney said. “It’s about me getting some confidence back and having a new start.”
Whitney attributed the decline to skating problems caused by misaligned bones in his left foot. He had surgery to correct the problem in August, after various orthopedic inserts in his skates failed to remedy it.
Whitney averaged nearly 25 minutes a game this season, his fourth with the Penguins, who picked him fifth overall in the 2002 draft.
He has 34 goals and 114 assists in 253 career games with the Penguins.
Kunitz is a 29-year-old left wing, who has 16 goals and 19 assists for the Ducks. He is a plus-9 in 62 games this season.
The six-foot-one, 198-pound Kunitz leads the Ducks with 148 hits in his sixth NHL season. Kunitz has 81 goals and 111 assists in 315 games with the Ducks and the Atlanta Thrashers.
He posted career highs of 25 goals and 60 points when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in the 2006-2007 season.
Murray expressed his gratitude for Kunitz’s contributions to the Ducks.
“He played his heart and soul out for our organization for a number of years and won a Cup with us. It’s a tough thing when you have to part with guys who gave so much to win,” the Ducks’ GM said.
“In saying that, you have to give to get. We had to give a valuable part of our organization today to get a young puck-moving defenceman.”
The junior prospect, 20-year-old Eric Tangradi, is a Philadelphia-born forward. He has 38 goals and 49 assists in 52 games this season with the Belleville Bulls in the Ontario Hockey League.
He isn’t expected to make an immediate impact with the Penguins.
Tangradi is a six-foot-four, 221-pound forward who played for Team USA in the 2009 World Junior Championships in Ottawa. He’s in his third season in the Ontario Hockey League and was Anaheim’s second-round pick (42nd overall) in the 2007 draft.
Whitney appeared to be part of the Penguins’ nucleus of young stars – including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal – when he signed a new contract with the team in July 2007.
He had a breakthrough 2006-2007 season in which he had 14 goals and 45 assists.
But Whitney’s production dropped to 12 goals and 28 assists last season, plus a goal and five assists in the playoffs when the Penguins advanced to the Stanley Cup finals against Detroit.
The NHL trade deadline is March 4.