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Photo Credit: Sergei Beleski/USA Today

FlamesNation prospect wrap-up: Tyler Wotherspoon

Here is a list of some the Flames’ most tenured players (as in, how long they’ve spent in the organization) and when they were acquired:

  • Mark Giordano (2005)
  • Mikael Backlund (2007)
  • TJ Brodie (2008)
  • Matt Stajan (2010)
  • Micheal Ferland (2010)
  • Tyler Wotherspoon (2011)
  • Johnny Gaudreau (2011)

Almost all of these guys have been major contributors to the Flames over the past three or four years.

The other guy is Tyler Wotherspoon. Once the Flames’ shining defensive prospect gem, he has been in development for so long that he’s been passed over a few times. He’s stuck around much longer than many of the other prospects, mostly on the hope that he would bounce back and eventually get his chance in the NHL.

That didn’t happen, even in his best pro season to date. Where do we go from here?

Background

Wotherspoon has more or less been the same thing throughout his career. He was advertised as a safe, puck-moving defenceman, but without much of an offensive game. At every stop in his career, he has been that. WHL? Safe, puck-moving defenceman without much offensive upside. World Juniors? Safe, puck-moving defenceman without much offensive upside. Wotherspoon’s offence peaked at 37 points in 61 games during his draft+2 year. The Flames picked him in the 2011 second round knowing that he wouldn’t be a game changer, just a reliable force on the backend.

The issue is that he never really got up to pro speed. His first year, 2013-14, looked very promising as he joined the Flames late in the season and picked up four assists in 14 games. After shoulder surgery in the offseason, Wotherspoon kind of looked a step off, and didn’t make the team right off the bat. Injuries late in the season forced the Flames’ hand, but Wotherspoon only got one regular season game in despite spending a hefty amount of time in the press box. He did suit up for six playoff games however, although he saw limited usage.

An injury to Brodie at the beginning of the 2015-16 season opened up a potential spot for Wotherspoon, but Brett Kulak got the call out of training camp. Again, Wotherspoon stayed in the AHL and got called up late in the season when everyone was injured. Ditto for 2016-17. Most of the time in the AHL, sparing use in the NHL.

2017-18 story

Wotherspoon spent the entire year in Stockton, anchoring the first pairing with Rasmus Andersson. Like he has been for a few seasons, he’s been a team leader in estimated time on ice and used in every situation. Wotherspoon doubled his production from last season, and had his best pro year, finishing 13 points up on his 2014-15 sophomore campaign. Nothing too exciting here.

The numbers

GP G A P Primary points 5v5 Points 5v5 Primary points NHLe
AHL 67 7 30 37 19 19 10 21.28

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Wotherspoon started the year off a bit wonky, but eventually found some consistency. He trailed off towards the end of the season, dropping from the 24-25 NHLe range to the 21-22 NHLe range. Coincidentally, Andersson was in Calgary during that time period.

The Andersson-Wotherspoon pairing was arguably one of the AHL’s best, but even if it’s hard to quantify, it is quite clear that one of those players was doing the heavy lifting. Andersson put up better numbers in almost every category in fewer games played despite being much younger.

GP G A P P1 5v5 P 5v5 P1 % of team offence % of team 5v5 offence
Wotherspoon 67 7 30 37 19 19 10 22.66% 22.59%
Andersson 56 9 30 39 22 24 15 17.97% 14.95%

Considering the whole picture, it’s easy to see that Andersson was the better player, at least from an offensive perspective. He had a greater impact on the offence, and a greater impact at 5v5 offence. It’s hard to say what impact each player had on the other without shot data, but I think it’s quite safe to assume that Andersson was the one driving the play.

If you really want to nitpick, Wotherspoon’s numbers don’t really hold up under some scrutiny. He had a relatively high number of empty net points compared to other defencemen (although I guess that speaks to the coaching staff constantly trusting him in those scenarios). He had about an even amount of primary points to secondary points, but Andersson and Oliver Kylington both outscored him in those categories on a per game and estimated per 60 basis.

So basically, Wotherspoon’s performance this year isn’t that great in context. He finally had an all-around strong season, but he had a defensive partner who was better and could’ve played NHL hockey. He finally had an offensive outburst, but mostly thanks to some fortunate circumstances.

The future

Wotherspoon has finally looked like an NHL prospect worth a damn.

The only problem is that it is five years into his pro career in the most fortunate circumstances he’s had in the minors. Brett Kulak joined the pro ranks a year later than Wotherspoon and has already become an established NHLer (arguably last year if he wasn’t injured). Andersson has been a pro for two years and has already been penciled in for an NHL spot. You could make convincing cases for Oliver Kylington (three pro years, but was allowed to join the AHL at 18) and Juuso Valimaki (still in junior). There’s just more high end and younger players who didn’t need to take five years to at least look like they’re close to making the jump. Wotherspoon has steadily improved year after year, but everyone else is more or less at the same place in a shorter time frame.

But even if Wotherspoon does eventually make it to the NHL, he’s maybe a sixth defenceman. He’s a low-event defenceman with not much offensive upside. He might (emphasis on the might: his NHL appearances, despite being far in the distance, aren’t that impressive) be an alright player, but there is much, much better out there, internally and externally. Your team is not going to live or die on your 25-year-old sixth defenceman, so might as well move on.

Is it unfair that Wotherspoon never got a shot (either this season or any season)? Yes. You don’t really need to convince me that he would have been a better option than Ladislav Smid, Jyrki Jokipakka, Derek Smith, Matt Bartkowski, or Shane O’Brien. But the simple truth is that NHL prospect graduation is not a retail store line: the first in line does not always get the next spot open. When those players got injured and/or shuffled out of the lineup for various reasons, someone else came to impress whereas Wotherspoon did not. Kulak stole his job in one training camp and from there, it just got worse.

The only way I can see him back is as a 7D, but I don’t think Wotherspoon would see himself in a Flames uniform. He’s a UFA now and has a hockey career to get moving on. If there’s a team that can offer him an actual NHL job, he should probably take it. It would be downright strange for him to keep trying to get a kick at the football when the Flames keep pulling it away.

Previously

Oliver Kylington | Josh Healey & Adam Ollas Mattsson | Mitchell Mattson | Hunter Smith | Mason McDonald | Tyler Parsons | Juuso Valimaki | Nick Schneider | Adam Ruzicka | Matthew Phillips | D’Artagnan Joly | Glenn Gawdin | Zach Fischer | Dillon Dube | Filip Sveningsson | Eetu Tuulola | Adam Fox | Linus Lindstrom | Pavel Karnaukhov & Rushan Rafikov

    • Stu Gotz

      You may be right….help me understand how you think the Flames mishandled this kid? Professional hockey evaluators from the Flames and 30 other teams have been watching this kid develop for years. Yet they either do not play him at the NHL level nor do they claim him when put on waivers numerous times…..hmmm.

      • Jobu

        Jobus 2 cents

        A lot of players dont get picked up on waivers simply because they dont want to lose their waiver order, and/or they have a similar defensemen in their own system. The kid isn’t waiver claim worthy, but he played well in the games Jobu saw him play in – a lot better than some of the other plugs the Flames org decided to play.

        He should have been our 7th defenseman over Bartkowski this year – but… you know… GG. Now he’ll sign elsewhere (NYR? VAN? OTT?) and get a legitimate shot… something he never got in Calgary

      • cjc

        Moreover, what’s in it for Calgary? They already have one underachieving 2014 first round pick… Virtanen may never have got great minutes in Vancouver, but he did in Utica… and had 19 pts. in 65 games to show for it.

        • Beer League Coach

          Virtanen has matured somewhat from his days in Utica. Bill Peters did good work mentoring the youngsters in Carolina. He could do the same for Flames with guys like Virtanen and Poirier. Just give them a chance to show what they can do under a new coach and new system.

    • Beer League Coach

      Could be a win win situation for all concerned. Both players get a chance to improve with a new team and both address a need for the new team. Van needs d-men who can actually defend. Cgy needs RHS RW who can put the puck in the net and handle the physical side of the game.

    • The Real Slim Brodie

      Only problem with that is he may take someones spot who is much better. This is the reason our prospects take a step back. I’m glad I’m not a gm because I will admit I become too attached to prospects.

      • deantheraven

        Me too. 7 years ago I thought Wotherspoon was going to be a regular in a year or two… Kept hoping…
        But while I am happy that there are prospects who show more promise, he really didn’t get much of a chance. It would’ve been good to get something for him. Maybe Tre can before July 1.

    • oilcanboyd

      That is what T’Spoon did before this season…thought he could show the Flames or other teams that he belongs in the NHL….doubt if he signs with the Flames again unless it is a one-way NHL contract (guarenteed minimum NHL salary) whether in NHL or AHL.

  • redwhiteblack

    Log jam at D. If they could package him into something instead of losing him for nothing they should. Probably should have done that before the midnight hour struck.

  • Off the wall

    So our best prospects consist of defence.
    Valamaki, Andersson, Kylington, Fox and the forgotten one Wotherspoon.

    Aside from Andersson and Wotherspoon none have really played at the NHL level. Wotherspoon has 40 games as a Flame in total since 2013.
    It’s not boding well for this Left shooting defensive- defence man.

    Do we sign him, or does he even sign with us? If Treliving does sign him, how do we utilize him?
    Stockton again.

    Wotherspoon has become our Rubix cube, he’s shown abilities, but does he get an opportunity with any other NHL club?

    Maybe our best option is to sign him (if he’s willing) and move him.

    He’s a leader on the team in Stockton, and has put in his time. No sense holding him back, if he can make it elsewhere.

  • Cheeky

    If this was the mid 2000’s, Wotherspoon would be a regular. All our defensmen are similar as in they are (supposedly) quick footed puck moving players. Rather than using the body to take puck, it’s about trying to stick handle puck away. Most of time it works however I feel we need a body moving defensive style dman with some nasty added. Wotherspoon probably isn’t this but I think him playing his style (boring defensive) hurting his chances on the above mentioned style the Flames were going for. Good luck in the future Tyler…

    • Baalzamon

      All our defensmen are similar as in they are (supposedly) quick footed puck moving players. Rather than using the body to take puck, it’s about trying to stick handle puck away.

      Except Hamonic… and Stone…

    • Rudy27

      Maybe if we had two or three scoring lines there would be room on this team for a defensive defensemen. Right now, we need offense from wherever we can get it….and Wotherspoon doesn’t check that box.

        • Rudy27

          You are comparing a 25 year old man to a 20 year old kid who is still filling out his frame. Regardless, maybe there is still hope for Wotherspoon. Look where Derek Englelland is today after not really cracking an NHL lineup until he was 28!

          • Korcan

            Problem for Wootherspoon is he lacks Engelland’s intangibles, the latter being a tough, physical, intimidating hombre. Wotherspoon is descent at everything, but not great at anything. Guaranteed, if he was a nasty piece of work to play against he would already be in Calgary (likely instead of Stone). To make it in the NHL you have to have a skill set that is not easily replaced — Tyler doesn’t offer anything that can’t be easily found in any number of #6/7-level dmen. Most clubs will rather go with their own in those scenarios, which probably explains why he is still with the Flames organization after all this time. I wish him well, but i dont blame Calgary for his misfortune.

  • Dougiefred

    Wothersoon’s only shot at the NHL is the 7 hole like Bartkowski was last year. Not much playing time but at least an NHL paycheck for a year as a parting gift.

    • Chucky

      July 1 he will have a contract and play in the NHL next year, just not with Calgary. If it had not been for Gulutzan he would have played in Calgary this year and been either the holding a spot for Valimaki or filling the #7 spot.
      The stupidity of trying to make Brodie a left defenseman has cost the Flames what they traded for both Stone and Hamonic (on first round, two second round, one third round and a fifth round) plus a reliable defensive defenseman who would have been a great guy to have as the second penalty kill pairing.

  • heatfan1

    I have seen 20 heat games last year TW was by far the best defender Anderson was able to roam around and shoot at will because of who his partner was same thing with Kyl and Goloubef explain to me how one person‘s plus minus is way better than the others when their partners because when one’s not playing the other one get scored on Anderson Ky defensively is still not able to play against first line AHL Time will tail and I hope I’m wrong but I do not see Anderson doing that well in the NHL look at his call up last year

  • BlueMoonNigel

    I am still intrigued with the idea of Worthy and Andersson being paired in Calgary to see if they can perform their “rock ‘n roll cowboys” act on the big stage.

    Worthy might be too important to the club this fall if Brodie and Stone are dealt and no defenceman comes here as a replacement. If nothing else, give him Barty’s Lucky & seat.