8.Tri-City Americans-Long gone are the days where the Brooks Macek and Johnny Lazo led Ams paved their way to a league final in 2009-2010. I found it surprising after doing research for this piece that the Americans haven't had the honour of hoisting the League Championships in their twenty seven year history. From Stu Barnes to Scott Gomez to Daymond Langkow, Tri-Cities has had a celebrated past producing players to the next level headlined by current Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price. In the last three to four seasons, the American franchise has teetered with ambiguity as the direction they were headed wasn't a path normally taken as General Manager Bob Tory ventured into an unorthodox approach, an overture that the American franchises have the advantage of doing by stockpiling Americans knowing that they're more responsive to staying south of the border as opposed to relocating to Western Canada. Unfortunately for Tory, Brandon Carlo was the only American who materialized in any way shape or form(position players). To name a few, Justin Gutierrez, Brian Williams(sans 2013-2014) and Justin Togiai are players that were touted commodities that likely otherwise wouldn't of considered other markets but flamed out in Kennewick. Due to the repeated failures of Americans it's as of no surprise that they've scaled back the American implosion and on the 2016/2017 roster, I only project four Yankees. Some will suggest I'm coming off a little unhinged for ranking Tri-City this high, but those that don't view these American markets a lot don't appreciate the fact that some of these players are vastlly underrated and if they played somewhere that received more Western Canadian media attention you wouldn't be having this level of skepticism. How I would define the Ams would be an incredibly big, persistent forechecking team who will wear you out. Truly the issue over the past couple seasons has been the sheer inexperience. They've imposed their physical will last season but Coach Mike Williamson just couldn't find the right message to nurture the youthful excitement and stress discipline. Hockey has become such a special teams oriented entity that to accumulate six hundred and twenty eight penalty minutes cant be accepted again. I saw signs of this group ready to burst forth consistent performances, didn't quite happen but I'm confident this is the year where they shore up the lapses and meet the expectations I had for them last year.
I alluded to the "youthful excitement" that the Americans exhibited at times last season but after doing a double take on the roster, it donned upon me that last year's team wasn't as unripe as I first believed. The implication here is that the onus is on Mike Williamson to better choose a leadership group that will buy into the importance of discipline while not straying away from the trademark run and gun style Mike has implemented. Up front, I don't want to say the offence starts with this individual because that belongs to Jordan Topping but it's imperative the Americans get an increased contribution out of Morgan Geekie. I'm probably overrating the offense Morgan's capable of but in my limited viewings, I've noticed that one similar observation remains in tact and that's that Morgan eliminates any offensive creativity that he has in the tool box and over expends himself trying to mimic the techniques Coach Williamson has instilled, always laying the heavy hit at the expense of making a play. When a young Geekie is on the bench watching the likes of Taylor Vickerman and Michael Rasmussen run a player out of the Toyota Center, he naturally wants to replicate what he sees but what he forgets that for in the case of Vickerman, a player with noted off ice leadership I would expect to return this season, his veteran presence allows him the knowledge of when to pick and choose when to be aggressive and when to assist a linemate in a puck battle. Rasmussen on the other hand and this may sound like a bold proclamation but has had an excellent summer in Hockey Canada opportunities and is a darkhorse for the Western Conference player of the year can fall back on extreme skill that makes up for that fine line between aggressiveness and excessive force. Can you really blame the kid though? This is an eighteen year old who just finished his first full season in the league and will do anything and everything to impress the coaching staff. What I'm hoping Morgan will get out of watching tape is that he was too out of control at times, and I don't know why I remember this but because I do I'll reference a game I was watching on WHL live featuring the host Americans versus the Kamloops Blazers, and Geekie was blazing down the right wing about to challenge Kamloops' European defenceman Vala, Vala who realized was under pressure quickly wrapped the puck around the net right on the stick of another American, and while a more offensively aware specimen would be rushing to the net captivated by a scoring chance, Geekie elected to finish the check on Vala whilst not providing a passing lane for his winger. It's this responsive hockey that he didn't pick up on throughout the last campaign. Reeling this combativeness will be on the docket for the coaching staff this fall. Another eighteen year old highlights why I'm so optimistic pertaining to this unit. That would be Parker AuCoin. With fellow four year stalwarts in Beau McCue and Parker Bowles, the Calgary native AuCoin after two years of "rotting" on the fourth line is at a climatic point in his WHL career. Can I just say before I continue on with my profile of Parker, before I forget is that it's my estimations that the Americans may in fact have the best crop of 1998's in the league and add that to the ledger for why I have them rated so exquisitely. AuCoin is clearly frustrated by the lack of playing time? Can you blame him, not necessarily because the Americans have been retooling their core around this 1998 age group but yet Parker has been hidden behind older, less impactful players and hasn't been given the leeway to grow from mistakes. Like the old adage states, you can't do what you're not allowed and Parker has been on such tight restrictions that he's timid when he does see rare ice time. The 401 on AuCoin coming into the league from his Minor Bantam days was that he was a scoring chance, potting 63 in his draft year which preceded his fifteenth overall selection. AuCoin isn't exactly a Mike Williamson type of player but every team requires variance and AuCoin does covet higher end foot speed but he has the mitts that a lot of others in his age group aspire to have. I just spent time theorizing on how Geekie can become a more effective WHLer and that was through slowing the game down and being more cognizant of where the puck was. Conversely with AuCoin his natural instincts are sufficient for the Major Junior Level but conditioning could come into question. There are alot of American fans questioning expending the first round pick on Parker in what amounted to be a very deep draft class but I want to caution against completely turning against the player. The term late bloomer is prevalent across Canadian Hockey League circles. I reminisce back to,keeping this line of thought entrenched in the WHL, Michael Ferland and T.J Foster as players now maybe not as revered as AuCoin coming into the league but found their stride later on. I can guarantee the frustration isn't a one way street as Am management who's in desperate need of offence need at least a proficient level of production out of Parker or they will have to look at upgrading that slot. I personally would view a trade of Parker a mistake as I just referenced two late bloomers and there are many others Patience is a virtue that the American hierarchy should adopt. Essentially as evidenced from my lofty ranking, I'm not calling a league championship but if the development of some meets their criteria, a league title in 2017/2018 is within reach. Carson Focht coming in this year and a player I regret not analyzing in Sasha Mutala who in my eyes should've been the number one overall pick in this past May's Bantam Draft compounds what projects to be a very bright future.
Brandon Carlo's presence will obviously be missed but with the up tempo nature prescribed, the argument could be made that the cerebral nature of Brandon's game wasn't the ideal fit for this nucleus. Not intending to rag on Brandon's game as he'll do just admirably spending next year in Providence of the AHL but my point stands of his game not meshing with what the Americans envision in their number one defenceman. The fact of the matter is Carlo's strengths were to slow the game down and methodically assess where the optimum place to distribute the puck was but in actuality it was this mindset that screeched the offense to a halt and took away any fluency. Everyone that I talk has nothing but positive remarks for Parker Wotherspoon. The entire organization last year had tempered expectations and I truly believe if they would have found the appproriate asking price for Brandon they would've made the move by acknowledging the level of confidence they had in Parker. Wotherspoon in many respects, particularly when Carlo was away playing for team U.S.A at the World Juniors evolved into their number one defenceman and this assertion could be backed up statistically. Just like his older brother Tyler, former Portland Winterhawk his superb offensive instincts. The jury is certainly still out on whether or not he possesses the body maturity to be an every day player at the National Hockey League, already at nineteen undeniably it has not come yet. but his power play quarterbacking ability gives him a leg up on the rest of the WHL competition. I just finished referring to the question marks I have with his physical maturity and for that reason I refuse to classify him in my top five current defenceman but he could very well have the best offensive chops league wide coming from a d-man. This may be a pipe dream but with the forwards expected to blossom I wouldn't rule out the potential of Parker(what's with all these Parkers?) surpassing the eighty point plateau. I genuinely dou if we'll ever see a closer carbon copy of a Mike Williamson coveted defenceman. All the boxes get checked off. Next p is another 1998 born, Nanaimo native Dylan Coghlan. While Wotherspoon is very much a rover, Coghlan is more comparable to what Carlo delivered. I referenced in the opening that the Americans were built ginormously, case in point unless Seth Bafaro cracks the lineup which remains a slight chance at best, then EVERY defenceman will be 6'0 or taller. Coghlan's attributes lend itself to a simple game, he'll sit back even when the time calls to jump into the rush. It's the passive approach that in my mind is selling himself short. He has the aptitude to be more assertive in the other teams zone as he really does have a tremendous wrist shot, maybe not the most firm shot but accurate. This is a summarization that is applicable to a lot of junior aged defenceman but if he just let his natural instincts kick in, his efficiency would sky rocket as he's already polished defensively. His ceiling is the aforementioned Carlo and he'll have hopefully learned enough from his predeccesor and apply himself as a top two defenceman this season.
Tri-City supporters have been spoiled by the riches of past goaltenders, Eric Comrie and Carey Price notably but rest assured Ams, incumbent Evan Sarthou is no slouch. In fact, Evan's presence is largely why I'm so confident, a lot more than others heading into this season.Sure, the likes of Carter Hart and Zach Sawchenko will still the national headlines but it won't be before long that Sarthou is enshrined in that same category. Internally Evan knew he had what it took to be an above average starter in this league and I'm sure left the Toyota Centre angry some nights feeling he deserved more starts playing behind Winnipeg Jets prospect Eric Comrie. What he may not have realized at the time that I'm hoping he's appreciative of know is learning from one of the best goaltenders to grace our league was a blessing and the skill set is better for it. Goal support during last year's run was hit and miss but for a team that didn't qualify for the post-season, his statistics were admirable, As the team's expectations rise so should Sarthou's. With minimal attention from NHL teams, conceivable Evan should hang around for his twenty year old season and by that juncture competing for a conference championship will be the goal from the onset. To have rock solid option in Evan is a luxury not gone unnoticed for Bob Tory and staff.