The Tri-City Americans were dealt a big blow Thursday, announcing that high-scoring forward Michael Rasmussen will miss up to three months with a fractured wrist.
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Rasmussen, who also injured his knee Feb. 1 in a game against Everett, has had problems with his wrist since the first part of the January.
While his knee injury has healed, his wrist has not. He has missed the past 10 games.
The Americans lost the first three games with him on the sidelines, but have won their past seven in a row to make a run at the U.S. Division title.
“We had our fingers crossed on Razzy,” Tri-City coach Mike Williamson said. “He had some more tests done, and it doesn’t look good. We are going to re-evaluate in five or six weeks. We are holding slim hope that he will rejoin us. But right now, he is not going to be with us.”
American general manager Bob Tory said that Rasmussen will be examined by hand and wrist specialist, Dr. Rodney French, of Vancouver, British Columbia, in six weeks.
“At that point, we should have a better idea of his return date,” Tory said in a news release.
Williamson said they have been getting updated information this week, and came to the conclusion that it was best to hold Rasmussen out.
“We have to do what is best for him long term and make sure he’s healed properly,” Williamson said. “It’s a setback, but we have played well with guys out the of the lineup all season. We haven’t used it as an excuse. I don’t think our guys will start using it as one now.”
The biggest question with Rasmussen’s injury — which does not require surgery — is how much it will affect his NHL draft status come June.
Rasmussen and defenseman Juuso Välimäki are projected first-round picks by NHL Central Scouting. Though the injury cuts his ice time, Williamson said Rasmussen already has left a lasting impression on NHL scouts.
“I think he has enough of a body of work,” Williamson said. “They have seen him in key situations for two years, in international competition and I think he has been on everybody’s radar. Most teams have already sat down and talked to him, and they will continue to interview him. I don’t think it will affect him in a negative way. They know what type of player and person he is at this level, and will be able to project what he will do down the road.”
For the time being, it’s business as usual as the team prepares for a two-game road trip.
The Americans (38-23-3-0, 79 points) are seven points back of Everett and Seattle, which share the division lead with 86 points. Tri-City plays at Seattle on Friday and at Kelowna on Saturday.
In Rasmussen’s absence, forwards Morgan Geekie, Tyler Sandhu and Jordan Topping, and well as defensemen Parker Wotherspoon and Välimäki, have stepped up to fill in the scoresheet.
In 50 games, Rasmussen had 32 goals and 23 assists. His 15 power-play goals still ranks second in the league.
“Obviously it’s huge losing Michael,” said Sandhu, who played on a line with Rasmussen most of the season. “He is a great hockey player. He is a big part of our dressing room and on the ice. It’s tough for us, but it’s motivation for us to go out there and play for him. Things have been going well right now. I think it’s because we are all having fun and making the right plays. Hopefully we can keep that going and keep the streak alive.”
Geekie has four goals and 15 assists in the past 10 games, while Sandhu has six goals and 10 assists, Topping nine goals and seven assists, Wotherspoon two goals and 12 assists, and Välimäki four goals and 10 assists.
“I think the key is a lot of players have stepped up,” Williamson said. “You look the play of (Nolan) Yaremko, (Max) James and Parker AuCoin, who has continued to quietly play well and doesn’t get a lot of accolades, but night in and night out, he’s a guy that can help provide offense, block shots and provide a lot of energy. If you look from the top of our lineup down, anyone who is playing is contributing right now and getting good experience. This time of year, injuries are part of everyone’s game. We have to march on.”
The Americans also are without forward Vladislav Lukin, who has missed the past three games with a lower-body injury suffered Feb. 18 against Spokane.
“He won’t play this weekend,” Williamson said of Lukin, who has 24 goals and 31 assists in 61 games. “Hopefully this time next week he will be on the ice and cleared to play.”