Even the most avid hockey fan loses the script when it comes to prospects and injuries. A player is drafted, and we track the stats but forget the injuries. The cumulative effect of those injuries often means a top prospect is not what he was supposed to be five years on. We remember Marc Pouliot as a failed prospect, but do we remember all of the injuries and lost games in those vital development years? I suspect the answer is no.
As the fall arrives and Tyler Pitlick looks to make the NHL for good, it’s worth remembering the injuries, and discussing their impact.
THE PITLICK INJURY TIMELINE
- 2010-11—Pitlick’s WHL season was going well, he played in 65 games (scoring 27 goals) before losing his season to an ankle injury.
Pitlick on the ankle injury: In Red Deer, I was in the corner. I was battling with [Justin] Weller
and I don’t know, he ended up on me somehow. I threw him off of me, and
he ended up landing on my leg. Then it was broken.
- 2012-13—In his second minor league season, Pitlick missed eight games in November (concussion) and then suffered a serious knee injury in January 2013—that cost him 25 games and poked a big hole in his season.
In 2013-14, things were looking up for the young winger. He impressed Dallas Eakins during the pre-season with his effort, and the coach was pleased with Pitlick.
Dallas Eakins in pre-season: “I keep trying to send him down and he keeps playing like that. Every time I turned around he was running into somebody. I
grabbed him after the second period and asked him if he wanted to play
in the NHL because if he keeps playing like that, it won’t be too long
until he is. He needs to keep the fire lit and he bought himself another game tomorrow.”
He scored his first NHL goal in his third big league game, and as one might expect it was a big moment for the young forward. However, he was injured later in the game—a bad injury—and it took him out of the NHL, first to IR and then the minors again.
Tyler Pitlick: “I went from highest of highs,
scoring my first NHL goal, to a torn ACL. It was tough mentally to take
that. But those things happen, you just have to stick with it. We still
have lots of season left and hopefully I can come back and start off
where I left off.”
ABOUT TYLER PITLICK, 2014
Todd Nelson: “He’s a strong guy, he
has great speed and he has some skill, but he has to play a
straight-lined game up and down his wing, being physical in the corners,
finishing his checks, shooting the puck and keeping things simple. When
he’s hitting people and he’s shooting the puck, he’s at his best. He’s
always got pretty good wheels out there, he understands the game. Once
again, it’s just a matter of being consistent. He’s knocking on the door
to be a full-time NHLer.”
Nelson late in the season: “I think Tyler
Pitlick has to be talked about. He’s taken his game to a whole new level
and he’s ready to play up there. I see this guy as not being back in
OKC next year, I see him playing in the National Hockey League… He’s
really a lot more mature than he has been in previous years. He’s taken a
quiet leadership role where he understands his play on the ice is
contagious to the rest of the hockey team where he has to play a
physical game and move his feet. As a coaching staff, we have confidence
TRAINING CAMP, 2014-15
It’s important not to overreact to these things, but when the lines and pairings came out for the beginning of training camp, Pitlick was on a de facto AHL line (Jesse Joensuu got the push to 4R). That could mean nothing at all—the games start Sunday and that’s where the rubber hits the road—but Pitlick’s progress through the system suggests it’s graduation day. His time is now.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Pitlick lost vital playing time during his development years, and then last season, when opportunity knocked and he played well enough to be recalled, he was injured again just as his NHL dream came true. That injury—it looked bad but not “that bad” at the time—took Pitlick away from his window of opportunity. Second round picks sometimes don’t get another chance, and that may be his fate with the Oilers.
I hope Pitlick makes it. He looks like a player, and there’s a job available. It would be a damn shame if all those injuries cost him an NHL job with the Oilers.