CALGARY, AB -- Tyler Wotherspoon has bided his time.
Assigned to the Stockton Heat of the American Hockey League on Oct. 2, the defenceman understood it may take some time to crack the Calgary Flames lineup this season due to the sheer number of blueliners battling for roster spots.
Even with a pre-season injury keeping TJ Brodie out of the lineup to start the year, Wotherspoon had five NHL regulars -- Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, Kris Russell, Dennis Wideman, and Deryk Engelland -- in front of him. In addition, Ladislav Smid was inching his way towards his return from neck surgery.
That left a single spot open for a plethora of young defenceman wanting to earn a shot with the big club on opening night.
It turned out Brett Kulak would land that coveted position, who ended up playing in six games before he was assigned to Stockton last October.
Since then, Wotherspoon has been patiently waiting for his chance in the NHL.
"It’s frustrating," he acknowledged. "I’m sure for every player down in the AHL it’s frustrating waiting for their opportunity to get it. It’s part of the business and you’ve got to shove that to the side and really work on your game and have patience.
"I really focused on my game and trying to do the little to make big adjustments. I’ve just been playing well, I think."
The opportunity Wotherspoon has been eagerly awaiting arose when Smid suffered an upper body injury in Wednesday's game against the Minnesota Wild. Smid was placed on the injured reserve and the 22-year-old got the call.
Tonight, he'll make his 2015-16 debut in Calgary when the Flames face off against the Vancouver Canucks at 7:00 PM MT.
"He's going to play," Bob Hartley said after the Flames morning skate. "That’s one thing when we bring a guy from the minors we want to put him in situations. We know Spooner, he’s been great for us. Two years ago, last year we didn’t have lots of our call-up guys playing on the blueline with us and this year also we’ve been fairly lucky.
"Right now we’re going through a little rash of injuries in the back end. We believe in Spooner. It’s a great opportunity for him and we’re happy to have him here."
Wotherspoon, who was drafted in the second round of the 2011 NHL Draft, has 15 NHL games and four assists on his resume. He also got into six playoff games last spring, playing in both series against the Canucks and Anaheim Ducks.
Given his experience with the Flames and earning substantial playing time in Stockton under head coach Ryan Huska, Wotherspoon is confident in his abilities at this level.
"I feel a lot more mature now. I think the game slowed down a little bit for me, being older," he mused.
"This is a huge opportunity for me. It’s been a long season down there but getting back up here to get a shot to prove that I can play up here full-time is huge for me and I’m going to try to make the most of it."