In two playoff games, Tyler Pitlick has two goals for the Oklahoma City Barons. Marry this sudden offensive performance with an NHL-calibre frame and a reputation for physical play, and perhaps it isn’t a surprise that Pitlick’s name is increasingly popping up in the comments section of Oilers’ websites.
Could he be the third-line centre of the future?
I’ve spent some time the last few days focusing on the Oilers’ long-term situation. Here at Oilers Nation, I looked at the team’s size down the middle and compared it to recent Stanley Cup finalists, noting that teams have won with two small centres. Over at the Cult of Hockey, I looked at a hypothetical five-year plan for the team and noted the need for a two-way centre with size.
In both places, Tyler Pitlick’s name was advanced as a potential candidate for the “two-way centre with size” role. It’s easy to understand why; here’s what Red Line Report had to say about him in his draft year (via Lowetide):
Accelerates briskly out of cross-over and blows by defenders. Has an NHL calibre shot right now. Flashed the ability to power through defenders. Can gain separation in corners with sharp twists and can turn on a dime. Patient playmaker. Long-limbed with farmboy like strength. Aggressive and finished checks. Can shield the puck and work it down low, but often gives it up due to his eagerness to come off the wall and attempt to dance around defenders. Work in progress defensively – will come back deep and battle for the puck but lacks awareness in coverage assignments. Green in many facets and was stuck on a Mankato team that was every man for himself, but was a big-time talent.
One problem is that Pitlick’s not playing up the middle in Oklahoma City – he’s on right wing. There’s a more significant problem, though: Tyler Pitlick may not have sufficient offense for a feature role at the NHL level.
Let’s use Gabriel Desjardins’ league equivalencies and see how Pitlick projects since his draft year. “NHL82” refers to the projection over tan 82-game NHL season.
So, including his draft year, over the last three seasons we reasonably could have expected Pitlick to score 17, 26 and 13 points at the NHL level. That isn’t the sort of offensive production that keeps a player in the top-nine, particularly if said player is a “work in progress defensively” and “lacks awareness in coverage assignments.” (One will note that Red Line and Stu MacGregor are in disagreement on Pitlick’s two-way ability; all things being equal I’d suggest the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, with Pitlick a guy who competes hard but was a little raw on draft day.)
There is one silver lining: Pitlick’s miserable AHL shooting percentage this year. Red Line lists Pitlick as boasting an “NHL calibre shot right now [i.e., in the summer of 2010]” and given his 27 goals (22 of them at even-strength) in the WHL it seems fair to credit his shot as a strength. This season in the AHL, Pitlick scored just seven goals on 130 shots – a 5.4 SH%. I’d be surprised, given his track record in previous seasons and scouting reports, if Pitlick was less than a 10% shooter at the AHL level. I fully expect that we’ll see him rebound in that department.
Unfortunately, it isn’t enough. Even if we use that reasoning and mentally pencil in twice as many goals for Pitlick this year, he’s still a sub-20 point player in the league equivalencies.
Oilers history isn’t a lot of help, either. Kyle Brodziak scored more at the same age, and he had the same low shooting percentage problem as Pitlick in his rookie year. Marc Pouliot and Jarret Stoll scored way more at the same age. Rob Schremp scored more at the same age. Jean-Francois Jacques scored more at the same age. About the only forward in the Oilers system who ever flirted with an NHL career to score lower at the same age in the AHL is Zack Stortini (Liam Reddox is also in the mix; he was lost in the ECHL at the time).
Tyler Pitlick may rebound next season. He may improve his play in all three zones and everyone knows that NHL teams have a lot of time for guys who play a physical game and are hard on the puck. But Pitlick’s decidedly mediocre offensive performance – and not just at the AHL level – means that it’s a bad idea at this point to even pencil him into a long-term Oilers’ role, let alone to scribble his name down in pen.
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