Tri-City Americans forward Michael Rasmussen has been skating without the yellow jersey in practice this week, and according to coach Mike Williamson, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Rasmussen could be in Saturday’s lineup when the Americans host the Spokane Chiefs.
“It’s been a good week,” Williamson said. “He has worked hard to put himself in a position to get back. We are pretty sure he will play this weekend. We will see how he is feeling after today’s practice and going into the games. We are pretty sure he is ready to go. We will make that final determination (Saturday).”
The Americans also will see defenseman Juuso Välimäki back on the ice come Monday, and in the lineup next week.
“They are both a huge part of our team,” Williamson said. “We haven’t had an opportunity to play with them much this year. Juuso is close as well. There will be a good chance he will be available for Wednesday (against Victoria), if not next weekend. A couple of pretty big pieces coming back.”
Rasmussen has not played since Dec. 16 at Red Deer. After seeking advice from the Detroit Red Wings medical staff, he had wrist surgery before Christmas and has been on the mend since.
In 22 games, the 2017 first-round draft pick of the Red Wings, has 16 goals (9 on the power play), 15 assists and a plus-9 rating.
“If he had his preference, he wouldn’t have missed time at all, but that is the nature of the game,” Williamson said. “He will be well rested when he is back.”
Välimäki, who played for Finland at the World Junior Championship, is recovering from an upper-body injury suffered at the WJC. He spent some time in Finland with his family after the WJC, and recently has been in Calgary, working with the Flames medical staff to get him ready to return to action.
The 6-2, 210-pound Välimäki, a first-round pick of the Flames, has not played for the Americans since Dec. 13 against Medicine Hat. In 19 games, he has five goals, 15 assists and a plus-6 rating.
“We feel good about our team and our expectations have been high, but we haven’t had a chance to have everyone together,” Williamson said. “Once we get everyone back and playing, we will have a better idea and be able to push and make up some ground.”
The Americans (23-16-7-0, 53 points) are right in the thick of things in the tight U.S. Division. Before Friday’s games, Tri-City was fifth in the division, two points back of fourth-place Spokane, and nine points behind leader Everett. The Americans have two games in hand on both teams.
“From what I remember, this is the tightest the division has been, especially with the quality of teams,” said Williamson, who also has coached the Portland Winterhawks. “It’s just not a tight group with average teams, everyone has a good record top to bottom. Everett has separated themselves a little bit, but it’s still fairly close and a lot of games left against each other. There will be jockeying for position to the end.”
The Americans will have a chance to make up a little ground this weekend, hosting Spokane on Saturday and Seattle on Sunday.
“Every night from here on out going forward, every team is going to be saying the same thing — every game is a must win,” Williamson said.