Since being drafted in 2011, Tyler Wotherspoon has traversed the prospect spectrum from being one of the ones to keep an eye out for to afterthought. We ranked him #8 in our prospect countdown in 2015. Now? We probably wouldn’t be that generous.
Wotherspoon has always been right in that tweener zone but has never been able to escape it. Aside from an eye-popping debut in 2013-14, we haven’t seen much of the big defender, and the Flames face a decision on him this upcoming offseason.
So what happens next?
Wotherspoon has been one of the Flames’ high up defensive prospects since he was drafted. A product of the esteemed Portland Winterhawks organization, Wotherspoon saw a fair bit of success -WHL champions and Memorial Cup runner ups in 2012-13 – before graduating to the pros. Wotherspoon also suited up for Canada at the 2013 WJC, although the country failed to medal.
After joining the Abbotsford Heat, Wotherspoon made a big statement when he joined the big club for 14 games and put up four assists, looking like a natural before requiring shoulder surgery. The next season was frustrating. Wotherspoon was often called up, but could not ever crack the lineup for whatever reason. When he did get played, he was thrust into the fire, as he was immediately thrown into the vicious series against the Vancouver Canucks. Again, trust appeared to be a big issue. Wotherspoon only played more than five minutes once on a team that had Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell as a first pairing. Perhaps now, he had made it.
Again, nope. Wotherspoon spent most of 2015-16 in the AHL, and his time in the NHL was mostly meh. The club needed to see a bit more, so Wotherspoon was re-signed this previous offseason to a one-year, $625K contract.
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Wotherspoon has always been a defensive defenceman, so it’s kind of hard to judge him on points production. He did however set a professional career high for goals. That’s nice.
He was relatively steady with regards to points production, and better than he was the year before. That’s also pretty good.
Wotherspoon’s real strength was just being out there. Estimated ice times are what they are, but Wotherspoon was a good 3-4 minutes ahead of anyone else. He was the minutes muncher and shut-down guy for the team, operating in all situations. Wotherspoon was the #1 guy for the team. Perhaps that calls into question his offensive stats a bit more (it seems baffling that someone could only shoot the puck 72 times in ~1,300 minutes of ice time), but as a defender, we know he’s solid.
Since making the pros in 2013-14, Wotherspoon has been offered many opportunities to make a name for himself on the Flames. He’s been recall #1, the last cut of training camp, and nada.
The writing is on the wall. It seems a bit telling that, despite having some incredibly shoddy players in the bottom six since 2013-14, the Flames have never been able to find space for Wotherspoon. It was kind of unsettling when he couldn’t capitalize on being the story of the late 2013-14 season and missed making the 2014-15 team (one that had Corey Potter, Rafa Diaz, and Ladislav Smid as rotating seventh defencemen). When the team decided Wideman and Jokipakka had lost their roles this year, they traded for one player and signed another one out of the AHL. When Dougie Hamilton and Michael Stone almost went down with injury, the team chose Rasmus Andersson, a 20-year-old with zero NHL experience, to fill the void. Without Brett Kulak (injured at the time), they could’ve selected their other defenceman with NHL experience and they didn’t.
There’s always been a few opportunities for Wotherspoon to step up and the team chose otherwise. I’m particularly thinking of the 29 days he spent with the big club this season. Swapped out for Kulak, the organization seemed to be saying “prove it” to Wotherspoon. From when he was recalled, Wotherspoon had 30 days before he lost waiver eligibility. Essentially, the team gave him one last shot. He was going to be a seventh defenceman and he had to work his way up. He made it into four games and then went back down, with Kulak coming back up. Wotherspoon didn’t prove it.
Perhaps I’m reading too closely, but a sober review of the situation will lead to the same conclusion. He’s already lost that #1 recall status to Kulak, who was nearly a write-off prospect two years ago. He’s the second oldest defensive prospect behind Kenney Morrison. Almost everyone else scores more. Wotherspoon has just seen the world turn and leave him.
When he first joined the org, he was one of the best defensive prospects. Now, there’s better. It kind of sucks to see a guy who has shown a lot of promise at the NHL level simply flutter out. It could be organizational mismanagement (your reminder that Bob Hartley was a bad coach who never actually liked playing the youth) or it could be the reality of the league. Whichever it is, Wotherspoon is unlikely to be qualified at the end of the season, and will probably walk. The team probably doesn’t want to pass on an asset that could still have some value, but I’m not sure why he would accept an offer from a team that has held him back for so long.
The Flames have plenty in their defensive corps that are younger and can do the job Wotherspoon does. A fresh start is probably what he needs if he’s ever going to be an NHLer.