I feel like every game I’m getting more confident. It shows by having the puck a little longer and making better decisions with it, especially in the offensive zone. - Tyler Wotherspoon
CALGARY, AB -- Rookie defenceman Tyler Wotherspoon has made leaps and bounds in his first month in the NHL.
The Burnaby, BC product has played in 11 straight games since being called up from the Abbotsford Heat on Mar. 7, building momentum with each and every outing.
“I feel like every game I’m getting more confident,” Wotherspoon said. “It shows by having the puck a little longer and making better decisions with it, especially in the offensive zone.”
Wotherspoon was recalled by the Calgary Flames after defenceman Dennis Wideman went down with an upper body injury sustained during a game with the Ottawa Senators on March 5. The Flames have elected to run with just six defenceman while Wideman is hurt, giving Wotherspoon a chance to play in every game.
“Spooner is playing great,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said. “He’s a young man trying to prove that he can stay in the NHL.
“He is working so hard, his attitude is unbelievable, the veterans love him, and each game and each shift he is getting better.”
Wotherspoon is pleased knowing that he is one of the six defenceman that will be playing regularly for the Flames with Wideman injured.
“It’s good to have the confidence and not worry [if I’ll be playing or not],” Wotherspoon said. “It makes it easier for me to play and calm down my game.”
Since being summoned by the Flames, Wotherspoon has been paired up with veteran Ladislav Smid in every game he has played in.
Smid's guidence has eased the transition from the minors to the NHL.
“He’s been helpful around the dressing room and the rink,” Wotherspoon said. “He’s really approachable so I can go up to him and talk to him at any time. He gives good pointers and is a great guy to talk to.”
Smid, who was acquired last November in a trade from the Edmonton Oilers, has played with a number of defensive partners since joining Calgary has found himself a solid pairing with the 21-year-old.
“We have a good chemistry,” Smid said. “He’s a young, upcoming guy who is humble to be here, and I’m just trying to help him.”
Hartley appreciates Smid's ability to pass along valuable information to the rookie.
“I think Smidy has done a great job with the kid,” Hartley said.
Since being paired with Wotherspoon, Smid has added one goal and two assists to his season, total, scoring his first goal as a Flame on March 12 against the Anaheim Ducks. He's also been a plus-3 since pairing up with Wotherspoon.
So far, Wotherspoon has been minus-1 in his first season with the Flames along with adding four assists and four penalty minutes in his brief tenure. As of Wednesday evening, the rearguard is on a three-game point streak, adding an assist in each of the past three games.
“It’s nice having those guys [forwards] go to the net,” Wotherspoon said. “It makes our job [as defencemen] easy by just trying to get the pucks through and let them battle down there.”
The young blueliner has had his ice time climb substantially as the games progress, going from 11:15 in his first game against the New York Islanders to playing 17:24 minutes in the Flames most recent game against the Ducks.
Hartley has had nothing but good things to say about Wotherspoon’s progression in his first couple of NHL games, saying that his simple game is what stands out in his play.
“They (Smid and Wotherspoon) don’t play with very much flash, but at the same time they are very effective,” said Hartley. “There is no smoke but there is a lot of substance in their game. They are both tough guys, who play hard and complement one another very well.”
Wotherspoon credits his progression to his confidence and the team, most prominently the defence core and how they have welcomed him in and teaching him along the way.
“We’re kind of a family back there, we all look after each other and work hard together in practices,” Wotherspoon said. “They are all like big brothers to me.
“They really welcomed me in nicely.”