Tyler Pitlick & His NHL Future

Jonathan Willis
November 12 2012 01:00PM

Despite his disappointing numbers in the American Hockey League this season, Tyler Pitlick has in general played pretty well. He hasn’t been scoring, but he plays a strong possession game, adds size and a willingness to go to the corners, and just generally looks like a pretty good hockey player.

What does his NHL future hold?

I’ve had an opinion on Pitlick’s likely NHL upside for years now, and it has not changed much since his 2010-11 season with the Medicine Hat Tigers. Watching him play for the Barons this year – initially on a scoring line, now in more of a third-line role – that opinion has been reinforced.

Pitlick has NHL upside. He just doesn’t have NHL upside on a scoring line.

What Pitlick does well

I always enjoy going back to scouting reports of players in their draft year and as prospects down the line. Because while in some cases the scouts fail to properly identify how good a prospect will be at the NHL level, in the vast majority of cases their reports make sense even years later in identifying how a player performs. My favourite report in Pitlick’s case was a four-sentence comment from an anonymous NHL scout in The Hockey News 2010 Draft Preview:

”He’s not really a college type of player,” a scout said. “He’s an up-and-down, grinding type who has some skill. He’s a strong kid who goes hard to the net and can score and likes to hit. He’s a solid NHL-type winger.”

That last line – “a solid NHL-type winger” – is the gist of it, really. Pitlick’s big, he’s strong, and while he doesn’t run around like a Cal Clutterbuck he does go to the corners and he has a decent physical game. He wins more puck battles than he loses; his skating allows him to advance the puck well. He’s an excellent possession player in the AHL this year.

David Staples’ scoring chance numbers tend to support what I’ve seen watching him this season. Through his first nine games of the season, Staples graded Pitlick as having contributed to 21 even-strength scoring chances – and making mistakes on just seven against.

At the AHL level, Pitlick does exactly what most teams want to see from their third-liners. He makes more good decisions than bad, he’s hard on the puck, he’s big and strong and doesn’t mind hitting. He’s a good player.

What Pitlick does not do well

In a lot of ways, there are parallels between Tyler Pitlick and Magnus Paajarvi. Like Paajarvi, Pitlick is a good player, has an NHL-sized frame, and helps more than he hurts. Unfortunately, like Paajarvi his offensive game is lacking – I’d argue that even allowing for role, his ability to generate goals in the offensive zone is less than that of his Swedish teammate.

This isn’t a conclusion arrived at over less than a dozen AHL games this season, either. It’s a conclusion supported by Pitlick’s scoring numbers since his draft year (the NHL/82 represents Pitlick's point totals multiplied by an NHL translation number and an 82-game season):

Season League GP G A PTS NHL/82
2009-10 NCAA 38 11 8 19 17
2010-11 WHL 56 27 35 62 27
2011-12 AHL 62 7 16 23 13
2012-13 AHL 11 0 2 2 ---

With each season that Pitlick fails to dramatically improve his scoring, we become more certain that he won’t ever be a scorer at the NHL level. When a player is younger, there’s a better chance of a massive improvement in performance. As Pitlick gets older – he’s in his 21-year old season now – the likelihood of that big jump gets smaller.

Bottom Line

We are probably at the point where we can rule out Pitlick being a scorer in the NHL (we likely reached that point last season, actually). It is looking increasingly likely that he will not be a supplementary scorer either, the kind of guy who fits in on the second line on a semi-regular basis.

The one hope now is that Pitlick has been a bizarrely unlucky shooter early in his professional career. He’s fired 172 shots over 86 career AHL games, scoring on just 5.2 percent of them. It's possible that he's snake-bitten - for the sake of contrast, Steven Stamkos is a 17.0 percent shooter so far over his career, but scored on just 12.2 percent of his first 172 NHL shots - and entirely plausible that he scores more regularly going forward.

Even so, however, Pitlick seems like the kind of guy who will be relegated to a depth role - third, perhaps even fourth-line work - because he is not a natural scorer. He has enough positive attributes that he should have a career, and I think there's a player there, but in the best case scenario he is more likely to be this generation's Mike Grier or Ethan Moreau rather than its Bill Guerin.   

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Jay Gray
November 12 2012, 01:06PM
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Pitlick sounds like PitFIST

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#2 Kent Wilson
November 12 2012, 01:09PM
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I liked what i saw from Pitlick during the game this weekend. He can skate quite well and was around the puck in good areas a lot.

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#4 Lummeropenet
November 12 2012, 01:14PM
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Hope so, if the Fist line is out then third will do.

Liked what i saw from him on Saturday.

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#5 Quicksilver ballet
November 12 2012, 01:29PM
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What kinda cheese does Pitlick favour?

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#6 David S
November 12 2012, 01:51PM
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Unless you're a player with some sort of elite-level specialty (PK, FO's, Fighter/Enforcer, etc.) don't you have to be a scorer to make the NHL? Not sure I'm cool with a guy that plays "OK" but can't finish to save his life. Don't we have to move beyond these guys if we want to be a real bonafide NHL team (versus one that's built to collect high lottery picks)?

I'm OK if guys like Pitlick never make the show. It's the natural state of pro sport. Every player either rises to the next level or plateaus according to his abilities. Leagues like the AHL are the last place to flush suspects. IMO, we'd be making a huge step forward as an organization if we simply stated development was best left to the lower leagues. The NHL should be the place where good teams are assembled with the best players in the world and groomed for ultimate success.

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#7 Sanaa Montana
November 12 2012, 01:52PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

What kinda cheese does Pitlick favour?

Anything from the goat.

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#8 Sanaa Montana
November 12 2012, 01:53PM
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How can he have a future in the NHL when the NHL has no future?

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#9 Sanaa Montana
November 12 2012, 01:53PM
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Lummeropenet wrote:

Hope so, if the Fist line is out then third will do.

Liked what i saw from him on Saturday.

Looks like you got bumped down to the 4th.

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#10 Oiler Al
November 12 2012, 01:54PM
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Center man who may not be a great goal scorer, but can contribute with 50 to 60 assists feeding snipers on the wing is a great asset, is Pitlick that player? Because if he isnt a sniper, and he isnt a prolific play maker., then he lines up with thousand other 3 and 4 th line guys in the draft pool. Just asking?

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#11 dessert1111
November 12 2012, 01:55PM
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I wonder if his offense will come a bit more (still not enough for a scoring line, but a solid 3rd line contribution) if his role is bit more clearly defined. He seems to jump all over the line up, and I wonder if he's kept in a 3rd line role and has the expectations of him clearly spelled out and what his role would probably be at an NHL level, might he then become a bit more comfortable and contribute to more offense.

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#13 The Soup Fascist
November 12 2012, 02:44PM
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Early in Pitlick's career but kind of reminds me of Chad Kilger. Not in the sense that Pitlick will necessary play 700 - 800 games in the NHL, but Kilger was a guy that just "looked like a star" but never could get it together. Obviously Kilger was a top 5 overall pick with more draft pedigree, but there are some similarities.

In his brief unremarkable time with the Oilers I remember him as a huge guy (6'4" / 220 lbs) who could skate like the wind, shoot the puck 100 mph and was in crazy good shape. However when the puck was dropped, he never really got anything done.

As others have mentioned, Pitlick really looked good on Saturday, but has not accomplished much this season. He is big, a strong skater, physical player with reasonable stick skills but at the end of the day when you look at the end results - meh.

He is a young kid and hopefully develops into a fine two way forward, but so far, something is missing.

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#14 Pucker
November 12 2012, 03:54PM
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The Soup Fascist wrote:

Early in Pitlick's career but kind of reminds me of Chad Kilger. Not in the sense that Pitlick will necessary play 700 - 800 games in the NHL, but Kilger was a guy that just "looked like a star" but never could get it together. Obviously Kilger was a top 5 overall pick with more draft pedigree, but there are some similarities.

In his brief unremarkable time with the Oilers I remember him as a huge guy (6'4" / 220 lbs) who could skate like the wind, shoot the puck 100 mph and was in crazy good shape. However when the puck was dropped, he never really got anything done.

As others have mentioned, Pitlick really looked good on Saturday, but has not accomplished much this season. He is big, a strong skater, physical player with reasonable stick skills but at the end of the day when you look at the end results - meh.

He is a young kid and hopefully develops into a fine two way forward, but so far, something is missing.

That Nickelback guy was a 1st round draft pick?? He deserves more credit than I gave hime!!

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#15 MattL
November 12 2012, 05:26PM
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Eberle has amazing hands, works on his shooting, goes to smart areas, and you say he has a lucky shooting percentage, Pitlick doesn't, and he's been unlucky with his shooting percentage? I think maybe there's a larger spread in this statistic than you think.

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#16 The Soup Fascist
November 12 2012, 05:36PM
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Pucker wrote:

That Nickelback guy was a 1st round draft pick?? He deserves more credit than I gave hime!!

Plus he gets to nail Avril Lavigne whenever he wants .....

..... Not really sure if that is a good thing.

On second thought, better not start that rumour, Chad Kilger had enough issues (allegedly) with "the help" without getting linked to Kroeger's fiance.

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#17 kdutton66
November 12 2012, 05:40PM
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maybe still early to tell? He is only 21. Maybe he can have a few solid seasons of 15-20 goals

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#18 Dan the Man
November 12 2012, 06:14PM
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This team could desperately use a Mike Grier.

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#20 a lg dubl dubl
November 12 2012, 07:50PM
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I think Pitlick could be a Ryan Jones type player. Nothin wrong with that.

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#21 Robin Brownlee
November 12 2012, 07:52PM
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The Oilers will be doing cartwheels if Pitlick turns out to score at anywhere near the rate Moreau and Grier did at the NHL level. I don't see it.

Moreau had back-to-back seasons of 98 and 96 points in the OHL at age 18 and 19, years in which he played just 59 and 62 games. Pitlick's 62 points in 56 WHL games looks lukewarm at best compared to that.

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#23 Oil Bog
November 12 2012, 08:42PM
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I was at both games this weekend. I agree that Pitlick is a good skater but that was all I saw this weekend. He was not strong on the puck like Harkinanean and displayed no "wow" attibutes. Until he demonstrates something unique or highly skilled I am not sure he progresses from the AHL. I know he is young but so were many others playing this weekend and those with skill stood out. I am not sure just being a good skater is good enough anymore. On a side note, a read an article earlier from David Staples talking about the atmosphere at the games. The article suggested Vancouver fans were all over Schultz. Perhaps it was the beer, but I didn't hear it. In fact, I would say the crowd was clearly pro Oiler. Really, what interest does a Vancouver fan have in supporting the Flames farm team? Anyway, it was great to see the "Oil" play a few games!

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#24 David S
November 12 2012, 11:01PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

A five percent shooting rate is goonish. It's exceedingly rare among real hockey players - which Pitlick is - so I expect it to rebound. Maybe to 7%, maybe to 10%; I don't know. It likely won't ever be a strength, but it's probably not as bad long-term as it is now.

An 18.9 percent shooting rate is better than any player in the NHL has managed since the lockout. Because it's so rare, I expect it to drop. Maybe to 15%, maybe to 12%, I don't know. It will likely always be a strength, but it's probably not as good long-term as it is now.

Every population has outliers. Of the 297 NHL players with more than 500 shots since the llast lockout, 296 of them fall between a shooting percentage of 6.0 percent and 18.0 percent. The lone exceptions are Daniel Winnik (5.9 percent) and Shawn Thornton (4.9 percent).

The thing about outliers is this: they are, by definition, rare. If you're betting on Jordan Eberle to maintain his 18.9 percent shooting percentage, you're making the twin gamble that a) his rookie season was a rare off-year (11.4 percent) and b) he's the best shooter of the current era. It doesn't take a math degree to know the more probable outcome is that his shooting percentage will fall into the established range of NHL shooters.

The gamble is different, and easier to make in Pitlick's case: that he's simply a really bad shooter. I think it's probably true in part, but I doubt he's as bad as he's looked so far, because I expect the AHL population mirrors the NHL population for the most part in this regard (I don't know that, but it seems likely).

All I'm doing is playing the (staggering) odds. If you can come up with a reasonable argument as to why Eberle/Pitlick fall outside the regular SH% population, I'm open to it, but I've yet to see a convincing argument (one fueled by fact, rather than hope) made.

I'd certainly admit Eberle's shooting percentage from last year was an outlier, but is it not likely he takes more, better quality shots the next season (whenever that may be)? I'd also propose his supporting cast will be more seasoned too. Not saying he'll hit for 100, but why can't he aim for the same region of point totals?

Maybe Eberle is just...you know...good?

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#25 The Oilers Shot Clock
November 13 2012, 01:33AM
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Im really optimistic of Pitlicks chances. I really like how he buys the good real estate in the corners and lets it appreciate before selling it for a profit and relocating to in front of the net. He could start his own moving company with skills like that,especially when he slows down going over the blue line. His offense will come the more he learns to to utilize his trailer and let his linemates do the fancy things while he eats toast with jam.

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#26 EHH Team
November 13 2012, 12:51PM
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@Jonathan Willis

I think there's a much better chance that Eberle can maintain a 12-15 percentage than there is that Pitlick can get to 7-10 percent. It's all in the hands and Eberle has a terrific wrist shot and a sick back hand.

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