Each day in the lead-up to the NHL Draft on June 25-26 in Los Angeles, Yahoo! Sports will feature one of the Central Scouting Bureau’s Top 100 North American prospects from the Canadian Hockey League.
Troy Rutkowski was part of the turnaround gang in the Western Hockey League this season.
The 6-foot-1, 208-pound defenceman, who is NHL Central Scouting's 44th-ranked North American skater, helped the Portland Winterhawks pull off one of the largest single-season improvements in recent memory.
The once-woeful Winterhawks won almost as many games (44) as they did the three previous seasons combined (47), finishing fifth in their conference and beating the Spokane Chiefs in a playoff series where the visiting team won all seven games. Rutkowski, who hails from Edmonton, was one of four Winter Hawks who played in the CHL Top Prospects Game in January, along with forwards Ryan Johansen, Nino Niederreiter and Brad Ross, each of whom is projected to go relatively early in the June 25-26 NHL draft. Having four high-end players and minimal turnover (only five roster spots) likely will make Portland will be a chic pre-season pick to make a playoff run.
Rutkowski's skating is very much a work-in-progress, which is why he's projected as a second- or third-round selection. However, he holds his own at each end, able to deliver a big bodycheck and also get involved on the scoresheet, with 12 goals and 43 points this past season.
1. How would you say your past season progressed, from start to finish?
"It was very good. Mike [Johnston, Portland's coach and general manager] brought in a bunch of new players and introduced some new systems and got us all to work. Now we have a really good chance to go deep into the playoffs next season.
"Personally, I started off strong, then kind of had a little slump toward the middle of the season, but I felt I finished well with the playoffs, which was good for not only me, but the organization. That Game 7 win [on Spokane's ice] did a lot, we got a lot of playoff experience under us out of that."
2. What is the biggest asset you bring to a team?
"I think I made a good first pass, I can help a team get up the ice and once they're in [the attacking zone], I can help maybe create chances."
3. What do you consider your proudest hockey achievement?
"I think it was our Game 7 win in Spokane this season, just to win and do it in overtime. That whole series was about winning on the road."
4. Whom do you consider your biggest hockey influence?
"My parents, I think it's the same with every kid. They're always there to drive you to practice in the morning, take you different cities for a game. They've been a great influence on me, get down to Portland as often as they can. They've driven sometimes and they've flown sometimes to come down to Portland -- 17 hours of driving, that says something."
5. Favourite TV show or movie?
"TV show? The Buried Life."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.