KENNEWICK -- When Tri-City Americans general manager Bob Tory makes a trade, he makes sure his team will get the better end of the deal.
Such was the case in the 2009 WHL bantam draft when Tory traded an extra third-round pick to Prince George to move up 12 spots -- from 19th to seventh -- to make sure he could get his hands on promising forward Connor Rankin.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Rankin was one of a few forwards taken in a first round loaded with defensemen.
In his first year with the Americans, Rankin, 16, has proven to be worth the price Tory paid.
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The native of North Vancouver, British Columbia, has 19 goals and 23 assists entering tonight's game against Everett at Toyota Center.
"He has had a tremendous season," Tory said. "What impresses me most is his play without the puck. Most kids his age have a good offensive game but haven't developed their game without the puck. He has played on every line and on the power play. There is much more to come from him."
Rankin, who didn't turn 16 until Nov. 30, said he has learned a lot in his first year in the WHL and has surprised himself with his success.
"I didn't think I would do this well," he said. "This is a tough league to break into. Size really helps in this league. I still get knocked around a lot. You have to learn to stand your ground."
In a league where most teams average two 16-year-olds and suit them up for 40 or 50 games, the Americans have gotten a ton of mileage out of Rankin -- he has played in all but two of the Americans' 68 games.
Rankin's affinity for the net yielded five goals in January and six in February. He had 21 points combined in the two months.
"He's a big kid, and he plays with confidence," said veteran forward Brendan Shinnimin, who has shared a line with Rankin many times this season. "He's not scared to make mistakes, and when he does, he learns from them. He's a pretty talented player. When he played with me and Hughey (Adam Hughesman), he benefited us. He plays more like a veteran than a rookie, and coming into the playoffs, you need that."
Rankin is eighth in the WHL in rookie scoring, but all seven players above him are older than 16.
"He has had a terrific season despite his age," Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. "We haven't looked at him as 16. He's strong. Physically, he's in the upper third of our forwards in terms of strength. He's good in the corners and fending people off. He's had everything a young player can handle, and he's excelled at everything."
Getting the opportunity to play on special teams and the power play has given Rankin the experience he has needed to take on a bigger role with the rash of injuries throughout the lineup the last two months.
"I feel comfortable out there," Rankin said. "When we were battling for the top spot before all the injuries, we all turned our game up. That experience has helped. It's been a lot of fun playing with guys like Shinnimin and Hughesman -- they are awesome players -- but the guys still make sure I remember I'm 16."
It goes along with all the other lessons he has learned this season, including the most important one he picked up on Day 1.
"As big and strong and skilled as everyone is, you have to be focused 100 percent of the time," Rankin said. "You can't take your eyes off the game for one second."
Nor should anyone take their eyes off Rankin.
* Annie Fowler: 509-582-1574; firstname.lastname@example.org