Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2017 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.
Tri-City center Michael Rasmussen has one objective with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, and that's getting to the front of the net.
It hasn't been all that difficult. At 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, Rasmussen is one of the biggest, strongest skaters eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft. In addition to his big frame, however, Rasmussen has a good skill set going for him.
"Protecting the puck in the corners is important and I think it's tough to move me when I protect the puck well and move my feet in front," he said.
Rasmussen, a left-shot forward, is No. 6 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of the top North American skaters for the 2017 draft.
"[Rasmussen] has either the best natural instinct or willingness to get to the net and go around the net," Tri-City coach Mike Williamson said. "And it sounds simple, but a lot of guys play on the perimeter, are not willing to go there, or just are off to the side enough to make it easy for a goalie. But his natural first instinct when he gets over the blue line is to get around the net."
Rasmussen placed fifth in the on-ice portion of testing conducted at the 2017 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Quebec City on Jan. 29. He finished first in the 30-meter backwards skating drill and third in the reaction with puck exercise.
"I think part of it with him is that he's playing with much more confidence this season," John Williams of NHL Central Scouting said. "He's adapted to playing a bigger role and playing heavy minutes against opponents' top lines and defense. The game has slowed down for him a little bit and he's just that much more poised. He can take that extra bit of time and understands he can take that time, make plays and score goals."
Rasmussen does log big minutes. In fact, Williamson said he has had to cut back on his ice time to provide him a break every so often. He's a steady contributor at 5-on-5 and on the power play, and occasionally will see time on the penalty kill.
"He'll still go out for important draws in penalty-killing situations when we need it, or have consecutive kills in a row," Williamson said.
Rasmussen is tied for the Western Hockey League lead with 15 power-play goals despite missing the past five games with a lower-body injury. In 50 games he has 55 points (32 goals, 23 assists), five game-winning goals and 29 power-play points.
He feels a solid second half to the season will help bolster his draft stock even more.
"I think I'm a hard-working power forward," Rasmussen said. "I like to use my teammates, get to the dirty areas of the ice. The most important thing is improving, so long as I work hard and keep improving things will happen."
Rasmussen played for Okanagan Hockey Academy bantam prep and had 87 points (41 goals, 46 assists) in 59 games in 2013-14, and then was selected by Tri-City with the seventh pick of the 2014 WHL bantam draft.
"Being around him every day for a couple years now, nothing he does surprises me," Williamson said. "Sometimes it surprises you when you realize he's only 17 years old, but he's very physically mature, skates well and gets around the ice for a big man."
Williamson had fifth-year WHL player Tyler Sandhu as Rasmussen's regular right wing.
"Sandhu is a good offensive playmaker and he and Rasmussen complemented each other well," Williamson said. "[Rasmussen] has good acceleration, mobility and strength so he covers a lot of ice and a lot of range and he's a very smart player. Put those things together and he gets a lot accomplished."
Rasmussen said his favorite player to watch on video is Mats Sundin, who spent 19 seasons in the NHL before retiring in 2009.
"I like the way he played; he had good hands in front of the net, went to the tough areas, worked hard and skated really well for a big man," Rasmussen said. "If I can be a little bit like him, I think that'll be good."
Williamson said he anticipates Rasmussen having a long, productive hockey career.
"He's going to get drafted high, but regardless of where he goes he's going to continue to improve and he's going to have a long career," Williamson said.