The Tri-City Americans had full confidence that Michael Rasmussen would be their go-to man for scoring this season. But right on his heels is Parker AuCoin, whose game finally has the shine the Americans have been waiting for.
Through 16 games, AuCoin has five goals and 10 assists. He is tied for fourth in team scoring with Kyle Olson, three points back of leaders Rasmussen and Morgan Geekie, who each have 18 points.
“He’s played well and contributed a lot,” Tri-City coach Mike Williamson said. “Going into the season, we felt he was a player we thought could produce for us. He didn’t get a ton of opportunities last year, but he is getting different opportunities this year, and he is taking advantage of that. We think he is a player who has a good offensive instinct and can create a lot in the other team’s zone.”
The Americans will be back in action Friday, hosting the Portland Winterhawks. Tri-City then will hit the road for a Saturday game in Spokane, and another date with the Winterhawks on Sunday at Moda Center in Portland.
Tri-City selected AuCoin in the first round of the 2013 Western Hockey League bantam draft. The Americans had high hopes for the Calgary native after he scored 63 goals during his bantam season with the Calgary Northstar Sabres, but it took a couple of years for his game to develop.
“Midget to the Western (Hockey) League is a big adjustment,” AuCoin said. “When you are used to being ‘the guy,’ it’s hard to adjust. It takes more time than you think. I feel like at the end of last year, I was playing like I should. It’s a process, but that’s how you get to the next level. I have to show up every night and stay consistent.”
The Americans opted to have AuCoin, then 16, play a second year of midgets in 2014-15 to fine-tune his game after he managed just eight goals and 15 points in his first season with the St. Albert Raiders.
“His skating has held him back a little,” Williamson said. “When he was 16, we felt that it was best for him to go back and play against his age group and continue to work on his skating and get quicker and faster. He still has to continue to work on that — to get smoother. When he is moving his feet and playing physical, he is extremely effective.”
As a 17-year-old rookie last season, AuCoin played 59 games with the Americans, scoring six goals with seven assists.
He already has surpassed that point total this season, and he doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
“I think I had my year to feel out the league and understand it: the schedule, travel and school,” AuCoin said. “Ice time is big too. Being comfortable and being confident allows you to play like you can. Last year, I was afraid to make mistakes. Being creative and trying new things has helped my game.”
AuCoin has been paired on a line with Geekie and Olson this season. But with injuries and Carson Focht away at the U-17 Hockey Challenge, he finds himself paired with Nolan Yaremko and Keltie Jeri-Leon. Either way, the points keep coming.
The 6-foot, 200-pound AuCoin opened the season with three assists against Spokane. He has seven points in his past seven games, including two-point nights against Vancouver (Oct. 23) and Portland (Oct. 25).
“There are a number of players right now for us that we have asked to step up and play a lot of different situations,” Williamson said. “He is playing on the power play, even strength and the penalty kill. There’s a lot of ice time there, and there is a lot of responsibility. It’s something he has worked hard to get.”
Points aren’t the only thing AuCoin brings to the table. He’s also a strong, physical player who doesn’t shy away from contact.
“When he is playing his best, he is mixing it up and finishing his checks,” Williamson said. “When he finishes checks, he finishes hard. He can create turnovers and wear teams down by doing that. He got away from things a couple of weeks ago and wasn’t having success. We talked about that. He got back to keeping it simple, moving his feet and finishing checks.”
BACK IN GOAL: Tri-City goalie Evan Sarthou, who missed the first 16 games of the season, is expected to start Saturday, according to Williamson. Sarthou played in 60 games last season, posting a 26-28-2 record with a 3.46 goals against average and an .888 save percentage.