Slow and steady wins the race.
At least that’s how Calgary Flames defensive prospect Tyler Wotherspoon hopes will be the case.
The Flames have taken their time developing the 23-year-old stay-at-home defenceman ever since utilizing their second round (57th overall) draft pick on him in 2011.
Twenty-six regular season and six playoff games over three seasons and the baby steps continue.
The well-travelled rearguard was recalled by the Flames on three separate occasions this past season, donning the flaming ‘C’ for a total of 11 games.
Although disappointment could have easily set in by now, Wotherspoon appears to have instead bought into the organization's long-term outlook.
“Any time you can get up with the big club and gain that experience it helps your hockey career tremendously,” said Wotherspoon, who recorded 10 points in 53 games this season with the Flames’ American Hockey League affiliate in Stockton. “Getting those games up there gave me the confidence here to finish the season strong.”
While a best case scenario would be locking up a full-time gig with the Flames, Wotherspoon is just grateful to have an opportunity.
“That’s where we all want to be,” he said. “Down here you just need to keep working on your game to make it up there full time. To get a taste like I have been able to get just makes me want to push even harder in the off-season and to compete for a job next year.”
Preaching the patience is a virtue concept with a young developing defenceman like Wotherspoon, according to Flames coach Bob Hartley, is not only the right way but the only way to approach things.
“For a defenceman like Spooner, we have to give him time,” Hartley said. “We have an NHL defenceman there, but the question is how long is it going to take? He still has some work to do on a few parts of his game, but he’s very poised for a young player, and I think that’s a big part of being successful as a defenceman.”
The strapping 6-foot-2, 210-pound blueliner, who helped lead the Portland Winterhawks to three consecutive Western Hockey League final appearances – hoisting the Ed Chynoweth Cup in 2013 – has made a solid impression on the Flames brain trust as he steadily progresses up the team’s depth chart.
The frequent call-ups have not only provided the Flames a chance for an occasional look-see at their young blueliner but stints with the parent club have also given Wotherspoon – mainly paired with Jakub Nakladal during his brief stopovers – an opportunity to understand his own state of NHL-readiness.
“I have to become more aggressive and physical,” he said. “You can’t be too hesitant up there. It’s a fast, quick game. You need to take that first step to close on guys quickly and try to shut them down as quickly as possible.”
But he’s making strides.
And he’s confident that everything will naturally come together with maturity and seasoning.
“I’m still growing as a defenceman,” he said. “I just have to keep working on my all-around game. I have to work on jumping up into the play and being more offensive.”
He has demonstrated signs of transitioning from a stay-at-home to a two-way defenceman during his AHL tenure.
In 162 games over three seasons, Wotherspoon has chipped in with 43 points from the back end and owns a sound plus-13 rating.
“I feel like I have become more steady, which comes with age and experience,” he said. “You need to have the confidence to jump up into the play and I tried to work on that all season and I thought it went well.”
He also believes off-season negotiations will carry out just as smoothly.
As a pending restricted free agent, the Burnaby, B.C. native enters this summer as the lone RFA defenceman on the Flames to-do list.
“I was drafted here, I started my career here and I have a lot of good memories here,” Wotherspoon said. “There will be some talks over the next couple months and hopefully things go well.”