May 15 2013 09:02AM
A year ago, you could be forgiven for forgetting about Tyler Wotherspoon. The 2011 second round choice of the Calgary Flames was a face in the crowd on a very stacked Portland Winterhawks team at the time. This year, he's become one of their best players and has arguably raised his stock faster and higher than many in the organization had hoped.
Acquired with one of the picks acquired in the Tim Erixon trade with the Rangers, Wotherspoon has been to three straight WHL championship series – finally winning this year – and will be appearing at the Memorial Cup next week, to go along with a trip to Ufa, Russia for the World Juniors at Christmas.
He's had a very busy, very successful season.
Wotherspoon plays a very smart, simple defensive game. He's got good size and decent mobility, but he's also added a deceptively accurate first pass to his repitoire. He's skated with WHL rookie Seth Jones on the Winterhawks top pairing for much of the season. While Wotherspoon's numbers no doubt benefited from that arrangement, Jones was also likely given a boost from the fact that Wotherspoon never seems to get rattled. A lot of long playoff runs will do that.
Wotherspoon set career highs in assists, points and plus/minus this season, boasting the second-best plus/minus mark (+62) in all of Canadian major junior hockey.
That said, Wotherspoon is unlikely to have a meaningful offensive component to his game at the next level, so his contributions will mostly have to come at the defensive end of the rink. The question is whether he'll be able to develop into a legit shut down d-man in the show or struggle to move beyond a third pairing/replacement level type guy.
Wotherspoon has an NHL contract with the Flames beginning next season, so it's likely he'll make the jump to the professional ranks in September and likely play in Abbotsford. He's also eligible to return to the WHL as an overage player (and his NHL deal would slide), but given his success as a 19-year-old, I'd wonder what he had left to accomplish in that league.
The Flames acquired three assets when Tim Erixon left town.
One of them was Roman Horak. The other two were draft picks (Wotherspoon and Markus Granlund). If either of the draft picks turned into NHLers at all, I think you'd call the trade a clean win given the circumstances. There's a good chance that Wotherspoon could turn into a good professional hockey player, as he's graduating from the Winterhawks and into a pro organization where he already knows a few teammates (at the very least Sven Baertschi and Laurent Brossoit).
He may not become T.J. Brodie in terms of impact, but based on his skill-set and temperment, Wotherspoon projects to be a perfectly fine third-pairing blueliner. It's just a question of how long it'll take him to get there. (And you never know, he could take another leap forward in the next few seasons...).
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