Reasonable Expectations: Tyler Wotherspoon

Calgary has really worked hard to improve its prospect base over the past three or four years, with a pretty big degree of success. The goaltending prospect base now includes Mason McDonald and college standout Jon Gillies. The forward ranks swelled due to five first round picks over the past three years, all spent on different types of forwards in Mark Jankowski, Sean Monahan, Emile Poirier, Morgan Klimchuk and Sam Bennett. Monahan played a full NHL season last year, and Poirier and Klimchuk both impressed in brief appearances for Abbotsford.

The obvious big hole here is on defense.

Last season, the Flames had three blueliners turn pro – Tyler Wotherspoon, John Ramage and Patrick Sieloff. Only one of them played significant time in the AHL, and that player saw significant time in the NHL, too. Tyler Wotherspoon may also spend time in the NHL this year.

Season       Points
NHLE +/-
2009-10 (WHL) 5 2.86 +15
2010-11 (WHL) 12 4.61 E
2011-12 (WHL) 28 10.28 +18
2012-13 (WHL) 37 14.92 +62
2013-14 (AHL) 9 6.77 +12
2013-14 (NHL) 4 23.43 -3

 

Wotherspoon was drafted into some really great WHL circumstances. In short – the Portland Winterhawks were (and are) a really good junior team and his plus/minus throughout his tenure is really just an indicator that he went from being a beneificary of being on a good team to being one of the team’s drivers. His plus/minus in 2012-13 was second-best in the entire Canadian Hockey League, which is good for bragging rights but not worth much else.

He’s also got the benefit of a lot of big-game experience. He made three consecutive trips to the WHL Championship series – in 2011, 2012 and 2013 – losing twice and finally winning in his last year in the ‘Dub. He competed in the 2013 Memorial Cup, losing in the finals to Nathan MacKinnon’s Halifax Mooseheads. He also earned a spot on Team Canada’s entry at the 2013 World Juniors, finishing fourth. Sure, that involved losing in both the semis and the bronze medal game, but you learn a lot about your game by losing big games in your career.

WOTHERSPOON’S 2013-14

Wotherspoon turned pro in 2013-14 and was expected to translate his quiet two-way game to the AHL without much fanfare. Outside of missing time due to a suspected concussion, he did largely that. He had 9 points in 48 games when he was recalled to Calgary on March 6th to replace the injured Dennis Wideman. The other healthy Heat defenders at the time were Brady Lamb (AHL contract), Chris Breen, Shane O’Brien, Chad Billins, Derek Smith and Kane LaFranchise (AHL contract), so it’s likely the brass wanted a look-see at Wotherspoon as an NHLer.

In a shocker – and warning, sample size! – Wotherspoon proved entirely capable of being a third-pairing NHL defenseman. At the ripe old age of 21. Alas, his scoring totals were higher than you would’ve expected and his possession stats sucked – ES Corsi of 40.8%, CorsiRel of -26.1 – and he went down for shoulder surgery after 14 games. But remember: sample size, 21 years old, and played with Ladislav Smid a lot (and probably played hurt).

2014-15 EXPECTATIONS

For a glimpse of how Wotherspoon may be handled, look at T.J. Brodie’s career trajectory. Brodie got a cup-of-coffee to guage his status in his first pro year. Then he improved and split his second year between the NHL and AHL. In his third year, he became an everyday NHLer (and a pretty good one).

Wotherspoon is a pretty good hand, although you could argue he’s not “great” at any one thing. He’s a good skater. He’s got a good shot. He’s got good vision. He’s an underrated offensive talent and probably needs to adjust to the NHL’s speed and physicality a bit. That said, he rarely got caught and didn’t face too many growing pains in the NHL. But he will, so it’s important to probably give him time to adjust. But he’s got a knack for stepping up from time-to-time, including a game against San Jose at home where he set up Joe Colborne at the side of the net with a gorgeous tape-to-tape slap-pass. That led to one of my favourite quote/Tweets of the season:

If I were a betting man, I’d think the Flames probably see Wotherspoon’s trajectory as similar to Brodie’s. They’ve seen him play in the NHL and have an idea what they want him to work on. They probably think they can rely on him to be in the NHL soon, and probably wouldn’t be averse to using him as a call-up. He’s probably the most NHL-ready of all their call-ups. He’ll get more NHL time in this season than he did last season. His possession numbers will need to improve, but I’d imagine his bolstered confidence (after some NHL success) will give him better numbers in the AHL at the very least.

He’s used to living on his own. He’s used to the AHL travel. He’s gotten his feet wet in the NHL. Wotherspoon will be better in 2014-15 than he was in 2013-14. Just how much better he becomes will determine how quickly he makes it to the NHL full-time.

  • seve927

    As I’ve mentioned before, (and can no longer provide any evidence because ExtraSkater) his Corsi improved sharply in his last 6 games as compared to his first 8. I think he comes up and sticks on the first injury that hits the blueline.

  • Parallex

    Reasonable Expectations: Play a lot of minutes against the best the AHL has to offer, look good doing it, make yourself the “go to” option for blueline call-ups. I think starting in the NHL is an unreasonable expectations but he’s pretty much the best blueline prospect the Flames currently have (although considering the competition that’s not exactly high praise)… accordingly expectations should be that he be an upper-echalon defender on the farm and try to force his name into the conversation for starting 6 in 2015-2016.

  • Jeff Lebowski

    I think he plays mostly in AHL. To me the question is whether he becomes a 3 or 4.

    He’s not that far from fully developed. His instincts are to protect- his skills refinement are geared towards being a transition guy. Not going to put up a ton of counting stats which come from instinct to attack.

    Top 3 must have some of that attack mentality/ability. Bottom 3 is protect.

    If you believe Wotherspoon is top 3, IMO you believe he can grow more attack mentality. I’m not saying he can’t but his comfort zone is to protect, as far as I can tell. Could be wrong.

    Compare Brodie to Wotherspoon. Are they similar? Who is Wotherspoon mist similar to in the league?

    He reminds me of any number of Euro defenders who don’t rake, yet play. Stralman? Lydman?

  • Parallex

    That’s a big dude, he’ll be in the lineup when one of Engelland, Brookbank or Smid goes down with an injury or if one is playing very poorly and is scratched. We would be better off with Brodie-Gio, Wotherspoon-Wideman, Russell-Smid scenario. Another season in the AHL wouldn’t hurt Tyler but I think the Flames brass wants to see what they have.

  • Burnward

    8 more sleeps until the young stars tournament. If Spoon can be a 5/6 with the big club then that is where he should be, if he is the 7 then his development is better served in Addy as the 1/2. Expect either Brookbank to be the 7th or Cundari or even Acolatse. However I still expect a trade before e are too deep into the season.

    • The Last Big Bear

      Yeah, well, if Wotherspoon becomes a minute-destroying #1D, and is selected for the Canadian Olympic team, I think most of us would be fairly happy with that.

  • PrairieStew

    I’m guessing he stays around all season. There will be injuries. Only Butler played all 82 last year and 7 guys played at least 45. I wouldn’t be surprised to see healthy scratches for Smid, Engelland and Russell from time to time. It would be really nice if Spoon took a huge step and was able to play the second pair with Wideman and they were able to tread water.

    Brookbank is a non factor I’d say.