Many years ago, Tim Erixon decided he didn’t want to play for the Calgary Flames. Jay Feaster, in a bind, turned to Glen Sather for help. Rather than hope Erixon fell to them when he re-entered the draft, the Rangers sent two second round picks and prospect Roman Horak to Calgary instead for Erixon’s rights – the Flames would’ve gotten only a second rounder if Erixon went back into the draft.
It stands as perhaps Feaster’s best move as a GM, and that’s completely ignoring that the two players they got with the draft picks – Markus Granlund and Tyler Wotherspoon – are seemingly close to being NHL-ready contributors.
Originally chosen 57th overall in the 2011 Draft (Granlund was picked 12 spots earlier), Tyler Wotherspoon is #11 in this year’s Flames Fifteen.
In stark contrast to Brett Kulak, who was the star player of a bad, bad team, Tyler Wotherspoon comes from a veritable hockey factory in Portland. The Winterhawks made the WHL Championship series three times and went to the Memorial Cup once during his junior career.
Oh, and he made the Canadian World Junior team, which in itself is a pretty tall order.
Wotherspoon was a productive junior player, with NHLEs of 2.86 (at 16), 4.61 (Draft Year), 10.28 (Draft+1) and 14.92 (Draft+2). As a 20-year-old, he had an ungodly good plus/minus of +62, second in the entire CHL behind teammate Nic Petan. Of course, a lot of that had to do with Portland being insanely stacked as a team.
Wotherspoon plays a pretty straight-forward game. He’s not a huge physical presence, but he uses his size and speed well and is a pretty solid positional defenseman, even as a 21-year-old NHL player. He’s not often caught off-guard by the speed of forwards, and he’s not often out-muscled. For a team that’s really low on guys that are physically ready (and physically big enough not to get pushed around), Wotherspoon has a lot of useful tools.
A nice surprise were his offensive flashes in Calgary this year. Wotherspoon had a couple games where he was shaky with the puck early-on – he admitted that he was making adjustments to the differences between the AHL and NHL. But once he found his confidence, he made some strong outlet passes and actually was pretty solid at generating scoring chances. He ended up with 4 points in 14 games, primarily playing third-pairing minutes with no power-play time. And there was a 2-1 shootout win at home against San Jose, where Wotherspoon set-up the game-tying goal by Joe Colborne with a gorgeous slap-pass and was named third star of the game.
“Sorry, I’ll get out of the way.” – Wotherspoon (his stall’s by Gio’s, which draws a lot of media).”No, Tyler. We’re here to talk to you.”
— Kristin Hallett (@Kristin_Hallett) March 25, 2014
The challenge for Wotherspoon in 2014-15 will be proving that his first year wasn’t a fluke (and continuing to grow his game). Oh, and staying healthy. He had an early-season concussion that cost him a few games, as well as having his brief NHL tenure ended by shoulder surgery. Wotherspoon’s late-season injury opened the door for Chad Billins, Mark Cundari and Chris Breen, but based on his short apprenticeship at the NHL, you’ve gotta believe that Brad Treliving and the rest of Flames management hope Wotherspoon comes into camp at 100% and ready to pick up where he left off.