Tri-City Americans’ coach Mike Williamson took some time after his team was eliminated from the WHL playoffs to discuss his five most coveted NHL draft-eligible prospects.
Michael Rasmussen – “I think the sky’s the limit. Character and work and focus and determination are off the charts. He’s got a 6-5 body and he skates extremely well..he’s a powerful skater and he’s got the good shot and better hands than people realize. He’s got a really good nose for the net…he’s learned to go to the net he’s around there all the time. He’s got great eye-hand coordination with his stick…he can get his stick all over pucks. He showed a big improvement on his little in-tight plays.
“I think the biggest question I got was whether he’s a center or a winger at the NHL level. I don’t know the answer to that..I said I think he would be valuable at both…I know he played well at the Prospects game on the wing, but he’s just so valuable for us in the middle..the big centerman that can move and cover the ice..but I think he’s smart enough and has the tools to be a really good winger as well.
“He’s going to have a long, long career. There are other guys going to get drafted either before that may have some more splash and dash with some stats, but I think that there’s so many things that he’ll do…his off-the-puck battles and being a playoff-type player…I think he can be a very valuable guy to a team for a long, long time.
“Honestly I think I was guilty of playing too much in the first half. I played him way more than I wanted to…we were coming off a year where we missed the playoffs, so it was very important that we had a good start…and we had some injuries and such with some older guys. The first 20 or more games he was playing 23-24 minutes some nights…which is way too much for anyone, especially since he was usually the first in on the forecheck an the first back to play low, so he was more more effective when I was able to give him less minutes…but his play without the puck, his defensive game is something he will continue to work on, but he was able to play against 19 and 20-year-olds most nights. I think there room for growth there.
“A lot of guys didn’t see it (his great shot) as a lot of his goals are right in the crease and stuff..but he can score some goals when he had a little bit of time with the puck on the rush…his release is really good…underrated. He’s also got a mean streak that people haven’t really seen a lot of yet. At 16 it’s tough to play rugged against guys who are two and three years older…we started to see it more this year, it’s something he’s always has when he’s played against his own age group. I think we’ll see that more and more too as he matures.
Those injuries take time..all the tests and imaging he’s had shows that it’s progressing and that he won’t need surgery. It’s important for him to give it some time to heal, and I don’t think it will be a problem. He definitely played for a while with it. He’s never really been hurt before.”
Juuso Valimaki – “I think his pivoting and stuff is an area he’s got to continue to improve. Juuso’s biggest issue was more his positioning on the ice…he’d get flatfooted on the ice and it would look like he was strugglig to pivot. He had a tendency to lose his gap and get backed off and have to make a decision to try and stop somebody while he was stopped..and made him look like he had a bit of a hitch in his pivots. We were on things in practice and for me it wasn’t very evident and his feet were fine..but overall I think his gap control is something he needs to continue to work on and that will solve a lot. It’s probably the biggest area that he needs to continue to develop and work on…his transition and that part.
“When it’s set up for him in a practice scenario in a one-on-one transition scenario..you can’t see a pivoting issue and his gap is fine. But then when we got in game situations sometimes he’d retreat early or not get up quick enough. I think Juuso is an extremely smart player, he’d just try to do too much at times, Both him and Wotherspoon knew that they were gamechanging players for us and they’d try to do too much and get caught out of position, that’s usually what is was with him. He’s got great acceleration from behind our net to the far blueline he was quite often a zone ahead of his guy and created a lot of transition opportunities for us, and he carries the puck with poise, he distributes it well. He’s just a very, very dynamic player offensively for sure. Great shot…his release. Most of the times he and Rasmussen would be on the ice together, and Rass was extremely good about getting to the net, and Juuso would find his stick..they were an incredible pair together that way.”
Kyle Olson – “He’s got good vision, he’s got a good skill level. He’s not the biggest guy but he battles really hard for pucks. He doesn’t let anyone take his space…he pushes bck pretty hard. He plays a lot bigger than his frame. At the start of the year he was 5-11 and 160. He might be close to 6-0 now. He may only weigh 160 but he out battles guys who are 180 or 190.”
Morgan Geekie – “I think that he really improved his competitiveness from his rookie year until now. In his rookie year we saw flashes at times of what he can do…I think this year he did a lot better job of being consistent. He’s not an overly physical guy but he’s learning to win puck battles and he’s wanting to shoot the puck..he’s improved in that area.
“I think it was both good for him and hard on him when Rasmussen went down…we didn’t relly have a one-two punch…the focus went on him. When Rasmussen was there teams had to kind of decide which lines to try and play against. It forced him into a different situation…it was a learning curve for him. It was good for him, he’ll be a better player for it, but it was definitely harder. He was seeing first and second D pairings every night instead of every second and third night and top lines, guys were taking more of his time and space away.
“He was adapting to it, but that’s just a learning curve for him. He’s got tremendous skill, plymaking, vision, incredible hands in tight areas…he can pick up the puck and get rid of it wherever it is..if it’s in his skates he’s got the ability to collect pucks and distribute them, and I just think it was a bit of a learning curve…experience…playing 72 games, practising every day….it took him some time to adapt. He had more opportunities in his second year, he was given top-two lines.
He’ll put the work in. He’ll definitely have to get stronger. He’s not as smooth a skater as some other guys so I think his lower body strength will be important so he can play at a high pace because he’s not going to be as efficient as some other guys. At the start of his first year he was 165 pounds…in two years he’s probably put on 20-25 pounds. As he fills into his body his skating should get better, but it’s not a strength for sure, he’s got to work at it.
“Some scouts absolutely love him, some are scared about his skating. One scout I was talking to the other day was wondering is he a Mark Stone or a Kyle Beach? He skates better right now than Mark Stone ever did in Brandon…he has a lot of the same playmaking, vision. Mark has a bit more of an edge and harder on pucks and stuff. He’s got incredible character, he’s a great teammate. He’s a bit of a quiet kid, came out of his shell a bit this year…but a really good young man. Comes from a good family, respectful. His teammates love him. He’ll give himself a chance…he has to work on his skating a bit, he has to get stronger and he has to make sure he is more consistent with the high-end compete.
Dylan Coghlan – “He’s really improved every year…kind of gone under the radar a bit with Rasmussen and Valimaki ahead of him. A good two way guy, he’s got a great shot, he can pass, he just has to get more consistent with his physical play. But he’s made big steps every year, and I think next year will be a great opportunity for him to take another step.
“He played 25-28 minutes most nights. I think his skating is fine…it’s got to improve…I think the scouts at the NHL level would like to see him more consistent and harder to play against to be a defenceman at the next level. Just to harder to play against, hard in the corners, boxing guys out, being tough in front of his net and winning puck battles. It’s more consistency than anything, and he’s come a long way. I think he has a chance to play at the pro level, but it’s his consistency and strength and the way he plays that need to improve. He’s got good size. He’s got a good upside and whether he gets drafted or not he’s got lots to work on still and he’ll get a chance to do that…he’s going to play a huge role for us next year so it will be a great chance for him to take another step.”