Tri-City Americans

Not all A's, but Ams still on honor roll

Gliding down the ice

Looking for a goal,

Hughey's pass was nice

and Big Mess won't get any coal;

Drew stops another puck

Grist gets in a fight,

With a little luck the Americans

Will win again tonight.

KENNEWICK — Set this to Dashing Through the Snow/Jingle Bells, and it's not so bad. Though on second thought, I should get someone else to create these holiday jingles.

It's Christmas morning and time for the Tri-City Americans' midseason report card.

I have to say, they all were pretty good this year. Not as good as last year, but no one will be finding lumps of coal in their stocking.

The Americans (19-11-1-1, 40 points) are off the mark from last year's torrid pace (26-9-0-0). But with 26 home games on the schedule during the second half, I foresee good things on the horizon.

Tri-City got off to a slow start at the beginning of the season and had a rare five-game losing streak. But the Americans bounced back, winning seven of its last 10.

They rank eighth in the league in goals scored with 120. They have two 20-goal scorers, six players with 10 or more goals and 14 players with 10 or more points.

The power play is clicking along at 25 percent and ranks second in the WHL. The penalty kill is just 14th in the league at 78.5 percent. It's the little things that make a difference, and the PK has to improve if the Americans want to enjoy another long playoff run.

Defensively, the team is not as strong as last year, with two rookies skating regular shifts and another learning the system. This has put additional pressure on goaltender Drew Owsley, who has done an admirable job.

Some papers structure their report cards by forwards, defense, goalies and special teams. I feel each player needs to take ownership of his play and be accountable for the good, the bad and the ugly.

General manager/owner

Bob Tory -- I liked the Zak Stebner trade -- both of them. He was a good addition to the blue line, but when Neal Prokop proved he could play at an elite level again, off Zak went to Kelowna and in came Carter Ashton from Regina. Bob paid a pretty penny to get the star forward, but he could be the missing link for good things to come. Bob brought in veteran defenseman Paul Sohor, but with a pile of talent up front, it would be nice to have even one more veteran D-man to even things out. Maybe Santa has an extra one stashed on his sleigh. Grade: A

Coach

Jim Hiller -- He enjoyed the riches of his first year with a U.S. Division title and the franchise's first Western Conference title. He had a lot of holdover from the Don Nachbaur era, but now that things are thinning out, he must dig deeper into his bag of tricks. He has a good core of returning players, but it's hard to replace a guy like Jarrett Toll, who was Owsley's wing man, blocking shots and clearing the doorstep. Jim needs someone to step up and take over that role. The Americans are 19-11-1-1 for 40 points at the break, a far cry from last year's 26-9-0-0 mark. They are third in the U.S. Division, 13 points behind Portland and three behind second-place Spokane, though they have five games in hand on the Winter-hawks and two on the Chiefs. The power play is clicking along at 25 percent and ranks second in the WHL. The penalty kill, which was a badge of honor for this team for years, is 14th in the league at 78.5 percent. The Americans still enjoy one of the best home records in the league at 10-2-0-1 (.808), second behind Saskatoon (14-1-0-1, .906). Grade: A-

Forwards

Carter Ashton -- I know, we haven't seen the kid in an Americans uniform, but it's hard to leave him out. In 29 games with Regina, he had 16 goals and 11 assists. His minus-12 rating correlates with the Pats' 8 wins at the time he was traded. He's playing with Team Canada at the World Juniors and great things are expected of him when he finally arrives at Toyota Center. He has a good pedigree, and Tampa Bay thought enough of him to take him in the first round in 2009. He's coming with a sack full of goodies. Let's just hope it doesn't turn to coal. Grade: Incomplete (we'll review at a later date)

David Conrad -- A Spokane Chiefs castoff who found a home with the enemy. More of a defensive forward than a scoring threat, but he holds his own with 2 goals and 8 assists in 30 games. He's a good face-off man, likes to play rough (3 fights to his credit) and doesn't mind the dirty work. Was a good fill-in player while Brendan Shinnimin served his suspension and Kruise Reddick recovered from a concussion. Grade: B-

Justin Feser -- Centers a line with Prokop and Patrick Holland, and has been productive with 10 goals and 19 assists. He has 5 power-play goals and a plus-7 rating, and his speed makes him a threat on the penalty kill. He loves to mix it up (2 fights), but after his 36 goals and 37 assists last year, I've been looking for more. Grade: B+

Patrick Holland -- He came alive after Christmas last year, and he has been consistent at the start of this season with 11 goals and 15 assists. Has 5 power-play goals and 1 short-handed goal. Plays all aspects of the game and for a second-year player, has shown maturity and poise. Grade: B

Adam Hughesman -- One of the biggest surprises this season. He has two more goals in 32 games than he did all of last year. He also has 22 assists and leads the team with 42 points -- which was his point total from last year. He has found success with several different line combinations and is a key to the Americans' power play -- with 12 goals (tied for first in the WHL) to show for his efforts. The Americans couldn't ask for more. Grade: A

Brooks Macek -- After he was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the sixth round and held over for main camp, I was excited to see what he would bring to the ice. That would be 8 goals, 12 assists and a minus-11 rating in 32 games. He has the potential -- he proved that last year -- and I hope to see that in the second half. Grade: B-

Jordan Messier -- Has used his 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame and skill to the tune of 20 goals and 10 assists. Shares the team lead for goals with Hughesman, but unlike Hughesman, just one of Messier's goals has come on the man advantage. He has learned to finish around the net and finish off opponents -- he leads the team with 4 fights. Grade: A

Marcus Messier -- Younger brother of Jordan Messier. He doesn't have the size that his brother does, but he has speed and has shown flashes of things to come. He has played just 16 games and just a handful at home. Has 1 goal and 1 assist to his credit. Grade: Incomplete

Max Moline -- Lanky rookie has 2 assists in 18 games. Like most rookies, he's fighting for playing time. When he learns to use his size, his game will come around. Grade: Incomplete

Neal Prokop -- He's somewhat of a medical miracle, coming back from a broken femur in March. Doctors doubted he would be able to play competitive hockey again, but here he is with 4 assists in 7 games (the Americans are 7-2 since his return). He's back in his comfort zone with Feser and Holland, and it's just a matter of time before this line starts producing like it did last season. He has yet to score a goal, but has set a few screens for others to find the net. He brings size (6-4, 210) to a team that is one of the smaller in the league. A natural leader and well respected by his teammates. He deserves an A for effort. Grade: A-

Connor Rankin -- A smooth skater with good hands and a scoring touch. In 31 games, he leads the Americans' rookies with 7 goals, 8 assists and a plus-4 rating. He has played on many different lines and has been able to contribute. Sometimes it's hard to tell he's just 16. Fun to watch, but still has plenty to learn. Grade: B

Kruise Reddick -- His leadership skills are valuable, but with just 6 goals and 20 assists (11 on the power play), you always want to see more from your captain. Granted, he missed 8 games because of a concussion and is on pace to surpass last year's numbers (56 points), but it's a far cry from the 74 points he put up his sophomore season. No offense, but I expect more after 5 years in the league. Grade: B

Brendan Shinnimin -- He missed 12 games after the WHL suspended him for a checking-from-behind penalty and made him the league poster child for the infraction. In 20 games, he has contributed 10 goals and 23 assists and has a plus-8 rating (to think if he had played all 32 games). Is a crucial part of the team's power-play and penalty-kill units. He likes to be in the middle of things (38 PIMs, 1 fight) and is a great team player. Grade: A-

Mason Wilgosh -- No one plays harder on both ends of the ice. After missing the first part of the season because of a broken jaw, he has scored 7 goals with 7 assists in 21 games. He is the cornerstone of the penalty kill and uses his speed to win battles for the puck. Never backs down in the corners or from a fight. He deserves the A on his sweater and one from me. Grade: A

Defensemen

Drydn Dow -- Has chipped in 1 goal and 4 assists to go along with a plus-3 rating in 20 games. In his second full season with the team, he is battling 2 rookies for ice time. Grade: C

Sam Grist -- I had my doubts earlier, but lately he has elevated his game. He has cut down on the lazy penalties and now levels clean hits. He's a big, strong kid (6-4, 210) who will be a force in this league once it all sinks in. He has a pair of assists to go with a pair of fights. Plays a solid stay-at-home game. Grade: B

Spencer Humphries -- He has 2 assists, 2 fights and a minus-7 rating in 28 games. For an 18-year-old, his rsum is thin. He was invited to the San Jose Sharks' camp in the fall and played in the Young Stars Tournament, but we are yet to see that translate for the Americans. Grade: B-

Tyler Schmidt -- Has played every one of his 281 WHL games with the Americans. In his final season, he has 3 goals and 15 points in 31 games. He is a steady stay-at-home D-man, but at times a little careless with the puck. He's a key point man on the power play (7 power-play assists) and a cog on the penalty kill. Wouldn't trade him for anyone, but from a 5-year man I want more. Grade: B+

Paul Sohor -- Another newcomer. Was acquired in a trade with Everett 2 weeks ago. He scored his first WHL goal Dec. 17 vs. Vancouver. He is a solid stay-at home man, is quick to stand up for his teammates and loves to block shots. I expect good things from him once he's comfortable in the Americans' system. Grade: Incomplete

Brock Sutherland -- There were times last year when I would close my eyes when he had the puck. Not anymore. He's a year older, stronger, has better presence on the ice and has 1 goal and 9 assists to his credit (equals last year's point total). He has been paired with just about every defenseman on the team and is quick to adapt. His minus-5 rating isn't pretty, but the rest of his game is. Grade: B

Zach Yuen -- It took him half a season to get the gist of things last year, but there is no grading on a curve this year. He's paired with Schmidt on the top line and has earned every second of ice time. He's solid with the puck, a reliable stay-at-home defenseman and a well-conditioned athlete. He's not shy about dropping the gloves, and opponents would be wise to think twice before throwing down with him. Has 2 goals, 14 assists and a team-high plus-12 rating. Quite an improvement from 4 points all of last year. Grade: A-

Goalies

Chris Driedger -- Not quite sure what he has to offer. He has played just 227 minutes, and only 25 of them at home -- coming last week against Vancouver. He has a 3.44 GAA and a .886 save percentage. Grade: Incomplete

Drew Owsley -- Last year, he was the toast of the town and the Western Conference finals MVP. He had some of the best numbers in the league as a first-year starter. This season, he has struggled a bit. He is 16-10-0-1 in 27 games (he finished 33-11-1-1 last year). There have been soft goals and too much daylight between the pads, but on the flip side, he doesn't have the defensive help he had last year. There are nights where Drew simply has stolen games with his stellar play. I know what he's capable of, and I foresee a good second half. Grade: B

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