Career Probabilities: Tyler Pitlick

What is Tyler Pitlick’s long-term NHL future? Could he be a second-line power forward-type player? Or will he even have an NHL career?

The Concept

First, a brief digression to explain what I am about to do.

When I look at a prospect and ask a question about his future – such as I will do with Pitlick in a moment – I always try to imagine a range of outcomes, and assign probabilities to each. Typically I do this in a subjective way (e.g. “second line forward) but for this exercise I will place definite criteria: games played and points per game.

I am also going to make one other change. Previously, I’ve made my own evaluations of prospects based on my knowledge of similar players. Instead, before evaluating each prospect I’m going to generate a list of comparable players – people who played in similar leagues at a similar age, were drafted in the same range, and had similar career points up to the current season.

How will this new series work? The best way to explain further is probably simply with a test case: in this example, Tyler Pitlick.

Tyler Pitlick

Pitlick is a hard player to nail down. He spent his draft year playing college hockey, than jumped to the WHL, and then jumped to the AHL. Very few players have a similar career curve – looking for comparables, I found no players that had that exact career path (Ottawa’s Jim O’Brien came closest). Instead, I decided to match any player that had a comparable performance in the AHL at the same age and could match one of Pitlick’s two prior seasons.

I was only able to find eight players who fit into my criteria; here’s the list:

Criteria: Drafted between 21st and 41st overall between 1995 and 2007, height greater than 70 inches, broadly similar scoring rates at the same level(s) at the same age.

There’s a distinct flavor to the group. At the top end are guys like Colby Armstrong (two 40-point seasons) and Anthony Stewart; at the bottom end are the Tomas Kurka’s and Travis Brigley’s of the world. Every player on the list eventually played in the NHL, and most of the guys got cameos on other lines but eventually settled into a fourth-line role.

There were probably another two-dozen players who were excluded from the list by my criteria – typically guys who stayed in college or major junior an extra year before graduating to the AHL (Pitlick made the jump at a young age). The results weren’t quite as good for that group, but for the vast majority got some NHL action in a definite role: guy with decent size who can play a bit and adds a little bit of an edge.

The list above – save for Kurka – mostly fits into the same description. Because our list of samples is small, I’m relying a little more on my own judgment and on the list of guys who didn’t quite fit than I would prefer (and will in later pieces). Here is my assessment of his career probabilities:

The best case scenario from the short list is a career similar to Colby Armstrong’s. Because there were so few players on a similar career path to Pitlick, I think I need to add one other best-case scenario, though, from the longer list: James Neal. Neal spent an extra year in major junior, but graduated to the AHL in his Draft+3 season, where he put up mediocre totals. Remarkably, over the next three years he’d score 20+ goals every year at the NHL level, and last season he put away 40 goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Most likely outcome: Big fourth-line guy with a versatile game, similar to Josh Green.

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  • T__Bone88

    I think Pitlick might have a good career as a 3rd/4th line RW. I wouldn’t call Pitlick a bust yet because your AHL stats do not translate to the NHL it seems. I’m sure there have been players who didn’t produce well in the AHL but found a niche in the NHL as a shutdown player. I believe it was Eberle who said it was tougher adjusting to playing in the AHL then it was going from junior to NHL.

    • AHL stats do actually translate to the NHL. They actually translate almost as well as NHL-to-NHL numbers. That’s fact, as Eric T. establishes in the link.

      But: there are always weird exceptions – I noted James Neal, who had a bizarre career curve and could not reasonably have been projected as an eventual 40-goal scorer based on his early work in the AHL and NHL. These are individuals, not machines, and I don’t own a crystal ball.

      That’s why I haven’t written Pitlick off – you’ll notice I figure there’s a roughly 1-in-20 shot that he breaks the mold and turns out to be a decent NHL scorer.

      But it’s a long shot, and I think it’s important to recognize that.

      • T__Bone88

        I understand that some stats will translate to the NHL. I was just looking at players like Chris Bourque & Keith Aucoin that lead the AHL in points but can’t hold a spot on a NHL roster. Even Marc-Antoine Pouliot had a 72 point season in the AHL.

        • No argument there: there will always be guys in the minors who can’t translate their offense from the AHL to NHL. In the aggregate, however, they do a good job of indicating what we can expect from a given player – particularly at a young age and taken in concert with things like size and draft position.

      • Jason Gregor

        JW,

        I think you’d have to consider possibility that Pitlick might get chance to play with RNH, Eberle, Hall or Yakupov. Playing with those guys would have huge upside for his potential.

        When you compared him to others did you look at linemates? Would be extremely hard to do, since I doubt there is data to show accurately who they played with, but I’m guessing that might impact Pitlick.

        It’s also why Paajarvi or Hartikainen might succeed more in Edmonton than they would elsewhere strictly due to linemates.

        It could also hurt them, since if they were in Florida, they might get more chances on PP and such.

        I’m guessing linemates and opportunity has to be part of the “unknown” aspect of predicting future.

        • I completely agree with you – there are a lot of unknowns, and the difference between two prospects can be a lot smaller than it looks based on linemates and opportunity.

          Take Colby Armstrong for instance – a lot went right for him to have his career. He was playing in Pittsburgh, a team with a weak overall NHL organization and in need of help on the wing; he ended up flanking Sidney Crosby for a time (as an NHL rookie he put up 40 points in 47 games). Then he got traded in the Marian Hossa deal and has only had one 40-point season since.

          I don’t think Edmonton is necessarily ideal for a winger breaking in, though – Hartikainen will probably get a push, but with so much talent on the wings I suspect aside from him a lot of these guys won’t get time on a premium line.

  • Minister D-

    On the purely subjective side of the scale:

    I spoke briefly with Mike Sillinger last year about Pitlick and learned a couple of things: 1) the Oilers like him a lot, so he’s likely going to get every chance to both at the AHL and the NHL levels to prove himself and 2) to quote Silli, “he’s a f**king machine”-that is to say, he works extremely hard and is dedicated to being a player.

    Now, I’m well aware that this falls into the “saw him good” category of prospecting, but this kind of statement from those close to the team, at least for me, suggests that Pitlick is a “prospect of interest.” It also makes me think that he could surprise – maybe not James Neal surprise – but surprise nonetheless by putting together a solid NHL career.

    • I actually don’t have a problem with ‘saw him good’ scouting – I think the best approach is to gather as much information as possible and just try to weight it appropriately.

      The off-ice stuff is something that’s difficult to see, and something that can be highly subjective (recall, for example, Mike Milbury bragging that Ryan O’Marra had the best score the Islanders had ever seen during their personality testing). That doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter – it matters a lot and if a player has drive and determination he can overcome a lot. Dan Bylsma played 400 games in the show and that’s a lot more than most guys squeeze out of his NHL talent level (with no disrespect intended to Bylsma).

      I’ve really enjoyed watching Pitlick this season, and he does a lot of things well – I just have trouble seeing where the offence is going to come from, and that’s one of the reasons I engaged in this exercise.

  • Oilers89

    These projections seem fair. However, I like Pitlicks game a lot and according to some he is far more engaged (hitting, driving the net) than last year. It was said in his scouting report that he had an NHL caliber shot in his draft year. A player like this could surprise I feel. There is just too much to like about his game and with some more seasoning and players moving out (eg. hall, ebs, harti, PRV etc) giving him consistent high minutes. I believe with those things there is a chance he becomes a good player (3rd liner, if really lucky more than that) and we forget about his struggles.

  • Jaw17

    I don’t think he’ll be anything special but he could be part of a cheap but effective bottom six we’re going to need if we plan on keeping all fab five plus a big second line center

  • B S

    Neal’s 40 goal season needs some perspective though. He was playing with Crosby and Malkin much of that season. My grandmother could score 20 goals a season with those guys. That’s not to take away from his history as a 20 goal scorer, just sayin’.

      • B S

        I’m not saying he’s a bad player and he complements his linemates in Pit well with his physical play, but its similar to playing with the Sedins: any competent (or barely so in some case) player can get 30 goals and 60 points on their line. My point was that his rise to elite status just happens to coincide with his trade to the Pens, not necessarily an increase in his own skill level.

        And that playoff series was a joke (entertaining, but definitely absurd). I haven’t seen goalies dive away from pucks like that since Al McInnis played, and then it was for good reason. Every player looked skilled in the Philly-Pit series, not just the top lines.

  • Pitlick has the style of play that all the ‘saw him good’ crowd will point at and say ‘Now that’s a player’. I love watching Pitlick.

    However, thanks are due to J.W. for supplying the information a fan can use to make their expectations more realistic. If I read your graph correctly (please correct me if I am wrong), then there is a 80% chance that Pitlick will play less than 250 NHL games in his lifetime.

    Guys who have Pitlick pencilled in as Pisani for the next 10 years might want to re-check their thinking.

    He MIGHT be Pisani, but he very probably won’t.

    http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php?pid=29966

    • That’s not quite my argument, actually – I am suggesting there is an 80 percent chance that Pitlick won’t play in 250+ games and record more than 0.35 points/game.

      And that’s my personal prediction as well. I’ve tried to examine comparable players and make it as objective as possible, but the real odds might be better or worse.

  • Aitch

    I’m just hoping that he shows well enough that he can be used as trade bait to bring in a vet down the road when we need to fill a specific hole to finish off a playoff team. You know the type of trade…He can play the Ryan O’Marra role.

    • Minister D-

      I’m going to choose to take from this article, and Sillinger’s comments, that Pitlick will be better than Colby Armstrong but not as good as Neal. I’m ok with that.

      @ JW

      It’s an illuminating article, to be sure. I didn’t intend to bring up the (very) tired debate between ‘saw him good’ people and the ‘advanced stats’ crew so much as preempt it,. Mostly I just wanted to relate a little “insider” knowledge that I stumbled across in my occasional travels across Saskatchewan watching senior hockey.