With very little in the defensive prospect cupboard until recently, there was really only one guy to get excited about: Tyler Wotherspoon. The 6'2, 210 lb. defender had been a key member of WHL champion and Memorial Cup finalist Portland Winterhawks squads, and is only just now starting to break through to the professional level.
However, professionally, things just haven't quite gone his way. Despite strong growth over the past few seasons, he has just not been seen as a competent enough player to replace the decaying bottom end defenders, of which the Flames have several. Wotherspoon racked up tons of frequent flyers points all thanks to one process the Flames chose to put him through: call him up, sit him in the press box, send him back down. All throughout the second half of this past season.
With two years of professional seasoning, Wotherspoon has a strong chance to crack the opening day roster.
|Rank||Player||DOB||Draft||2014-15 Team||Vote Total|
||03/12/1993||57th overall, 2011
||Adirondack Flames (AHL), Calgary Flames (NHL)
Wotherspoon was selected with the 23rd overall pick by the Portland Winterhawks in 2008, and spent most of that year in the BC Major Midget League. His performance with the Valley West Hawks (playing alongside former Flames prospect Laurent Brossoit) was good enough to get him a four game stint with the Winterhawks at the end of their dismal season.
He produced zero points, but was impressive enough to earn a semi-regular roster spot for the next year. He wasn't an offensive show on ice, but his defensive game was good enough for the Canada Pacific U17s in the U17 World Hockey Challenge. Wotherspoon did not find the scoresheet in any of his five games, and the team finished third.
The 2010-11 season was his leap forward year. He wasn't tearing up the scoring list, but was able to snag a spot in the CHL Top Prospects game, playing on Team Cherry. The Winterhawks improved too, pushing to the WHL finals, where they lost in five to the Kootenay Ice. The playoffs were Wotherspoon's moment in the spotlight, scoring more than he had in any full regular season.
His two-way game, size, and playoff performance were key factors for the Flames at the 2011 draft, who selected him with the 57th overall pick. Wotherspoon returned to the Winterhawks for the 2011-12 season, more than doubling his scoring from the previous year, most of his points being assists. Wotherspoon also cleaned up his act, dropping from 73 penalty minutes in 2010-11 to 42 in 2011-12. Once again, the Winterhawks made it to the WHL finals, only to lose to the Oilin seven.
Wotherspoon received some preseason time with the Flames in 2012-13, but was ultimately sent back for his final season of WHL hockey. As one of the older defenders on a very stacked Portland team (including Seth Jones, Nic Petan, and Ty Rattie, among others), Wotherspoon was given an 'A' that year. Like the previous year, he increased his point total (37), decreased his penalty minutes (30), and had an unworldly plus/minus (+62).
His excellent play provided him the privilege of joining Team Canada at the World Juniors, where the team won bronze. Wotherspoon played well in the six games he was featured in, picking up two assists alongside then-Bruins prospect and now-Flame Dougie Hamilton. Wotherspoon also got the call for the WHL all-star team in the Subway Super Series, potting an assist in the 5-2 loss to the Russian selects.
The Winterhawks finally got over the WHL hump in 2012-13, taking down the Oil Kings in six and giving them a Memorial Cup berth. Wotherspoon was especially on fire for the WHL playoffs, scoring about 0.5 points per game. Considering his position and history, that's nothing to scoff at. He improved further in the MC, but the Winterhawks lost to the unbeatable Halifax Mooseheads.
His impressive junior career set the stage for his professional career, which almost started off with a bang. Wotherspoon nearly joined the Flames, being cut in the final few rounds of training camp and assigned to the Abbotsford Heat for 2013-14. As history has shown, Wotherspoon struggled to record points, but was praised for his complete 200 foot game.
He caught the Flames' eye late in the season, after they had been eliminated from playoff contention. A shoulder injury to Dennis Wideman saw Wotherspoon go east and join his parent club. He played very well for the Flames, inciting interest with this particular play:
Curiously, he also assisted two of Brian McGrattan's goals and Kevin Westgarth's lone goal of the season. Maybe Brandon Bollig has a new friend?
A shoulder injury requiring surgery shut him down for the remaining few games of the season, and it was onto next year, where he could certainly vie for a spot on the team.
It didn't go so well. Still recovering from his shoulder surgery, he was once again a late cut for the Flames, but carried his strong play from the previous year into the AHL for Adirondack once healthy. He was second in defensive scoring with 24 points, and would probably have been the team leader, had he not been called up randomly just to not be played. He missed nearly a month of AHL games sitting in the press box unused. We were very mad.
Wotherspoon finally got his NHL game, the rookie showcase against the Jets in game 82. He went unused for the first two games of the playoffs, until Bob Hartley wisely decided that Corey Potter probably wasn't cut out for playoff hockey. Wotherspoon didn't get any points in his six game-long cup of coffee, and only played more than 10 minutes once (fact: Bob Hartley isn't very good at man management). When Raphael Diaz returned, Wotherspoon reclaimed his press box seat.
Strengths and weaknesses
As you saw in the video above, Wotherspoon is an adept passer. He sees the ice very well, which is probably why he has a 27:116 goals to assists ratio in all competitions since joining major junior. His two-way game is very strong, favouring the defensive side of things because of his large frame. Wotherspoon is a bit of a crease clearer, but in the good sense because that's not all he does.
There's also been steady, steady growth with him. Every year, he seems to get better, refusing to stagnate or fall backwards. Come rookie camp, we should get a clear look at what he is and whether he is able to meaningfully contribute to the team.
But that's part of the issue. We turn to HockeyGoalieEh, the only one to give Wotherspoon below a C for his 2014-15 season:
Much like Joni Ortio, Wotherspoon didn’t see a lot of ice time so it’s a bit difficult to grade him. When he did play, he was pretty terrible. He saw incredibly sheltered minutes, played mostly in the offensive zone, and still played rather terribly. The only individual worse than him in relative scoring chances was Deryk Engelland and for all the talk about how Potter shouldn’t have played over him, Potter put up better Corsi, Fenwick, and scoring chance numbers than Wotherspoon did.
I'm not that harsh on him, but it is still concerning. He certainly wasn't that much of an upgrade on Corey Potter, but it's got to be difficult to ask a kid to step in for the playoffs. While I'm not completely sold that Wotherspoon is a bad NHLer right now, he may not quite be there just yet...
Future role with the Flames
...which could be a big problem for him. The Flames currently have seven NHL defenders on their roster, and haven't been actively shopping anyone (to our knowledge). If the Flames are betting that Ladislav Smid will still be on LTIR come October, then Wotherspoon will have a spot as a rotating healthy scratch. If Deryk Engelland shows up to camp in write-off condition, then he will receive playing time. However, this team did keep playing Engelland despite him being absolute dead weight last year over Wotherspoon, so who really knows.
This is definitely his "show me" year. Should he come to camp without being that impressive, he could spend his time in Stockton, where it is likely that he will be traded a la Sven Baertschi. The team has capable prospects to replace him if he falls out of favour, so he has to show that he is at least a 5/6 NHL defender.
Expectations for 2015-16
Again, this all depends on training camp. If he does well, I expect him to perhaps be partnered with Hamilton, his former Team Canada teammate. Giordano-Brodie and Wideman-Russell are inseparable, so he'll be with Dougie. Not bad at all for the rookie.
Should he be cut, he'll report to his third AHL city in three years. He'll definitely be a Stockton defensive leader, with some appearances for the Flames should someone get injured or if Engelland and/or Smid aren't up to snuff. He will play a lot more than he did in 2014-15, that's for certain.
Earlier on the list
#25 - Ryan Culkin // #24 - Hunter Smith // #23 - Pavel Karnaukhov // #22 - Garnet Hathaway // #21 - Kenny Agostino// #20 - Mark Jankowski // #19 - Bill Arnold // #18 - Kenney Morrison // #17 - Andrew Mangiapane // T-#14 - Mason McDonald // T-#14 - Brandon Hickey // T-#14 - Rasmus Andersson