Sometimes a player comes along who just seems to have all
the tools but can never put them all together. They have the shot, the speed,
the size, and yet those attributes seem to exist apart from each other. When
the Oilers drafted Tyler Pitlick there was a contingent of people who thought
the team had just found a future top six player. Now I’m not so convinced he’s
even worth a contract spot.
The road from prospect of note to prospect footnote is a
tough one that features bad organizational decisions as much as anything else. The
Oilers chose to make this player’s career as turbulent as possible, elevating
him levels before they had to and clearly before he was ready.
Pitlick went from High School hockey in Minnesota the year
before to College Hockey playing for Minnesota State University – Mankato in
his Draft year. At 6’2” and 190+ pounds there was a lot to like about his size
and he has always had wheels. His speed, even today, is probably his best
At MSU he lead all the freshmen on his team in scoring with
38GP, 11-8-19. Those aren’t gaudy scoring totals but he was a freshman in
college playing against older players and given his size, speed, and noted
quick shot there was some reason to believe that there was at least something
behind his 21st overall ranking among North American skaters by NHL
However, despite playing primarily as a winger in college he
was still cast as a centerman. Here’s the late E.J. McGuire on Pitlick: “Dominates
faceoffs and in freshman year, is an excellent young prospect, a really good
young skater and his ability to dominate a game at his level is truly
impressive.” Not so bad when the NHL director of Central Scouting is saying
such nice things about you.
Those words mixed with his actual production didn’t quite
jive, but at least there was potential, and there really was/is potential with
The Oilers played out their Taylor/Tyler saga in 2010 but
still managed to get both, in a sense. They took Taylor Hall 1st
overall in the draft then they took a Tyler with the 31st overall
pick. The Oilers would have three picks in the second round that year. They
chose at 31, 46, and 48 taking Pitlick, Marincin, and Hamilton. Names that
Edmonton missed out on despite owning 10% of the picks in that round were Devante
Smith-Pelly, Jon Merrill, Tyler Toffoli, and Justin Faulk.
So at 31st overall the Oilers and their fans
might have thought they were getting a centerman. In fact, they thought they
might be getting David Backes. Here’s Stu MacGregor via Jim Matheson on Pitlick: “Who
does he compare with in the NHL? Geez, I’m not good at that . . . maybe (David)
Backes a bit…He’s a very good two-way centreman, a very hard shot. Strong on
It simply was not meant to be. The Oil wanted a centerman
but most centermen actually play center, and Pitlick was really a winger. Beyond
that, they were hoping to fast-track these kids as much as possible. The same
article that had the Backes quote also has MacGregor talking about potentially playing
Marincin in the AHL right away. It didn’t play out that way, he went to Prince
George, but that it was heavily considered speaks to the organization’s mindset
at the time.
That same level of impatience affected the team’s decisions
with Pitlick though. Instead of keeping him in college hockey where he had done
well for a freshman but was obviously not dominating offensively, the team
convinced him to switch to the WHL.
Pitlick went to the Medicine Hat Tigers and posted 27-35-62
in 56 games for the team. It sounds pretty good, but he was 5th in
Tigers scoring that year and significantly behind former 4th round
selection Linden Vey and Emerson Etem (who was taken 29th in 2010)
in points per game. Along with disappointing scoring totals given his peers,
Pitlick also began a long relationship with the injured reserve that
season. He hurt his ankle and missed the entire playoffs.
Given his unspectacular season the Oilers might well have
pushed their young faux-centerman to play another year in the WHL, but instead
they graduated him to the AHL in 2011-2012. This would prove to be his fourth
team in his fourth city in as many years. Instead of letting him excel
in any one spot, they made sure he had just gotten his feet wet before shuffling
him along to the next place.
Pitlick had a relatively poor rookie 2011-2012 AHL season,
going 62GP, 7-16-23, but to date that proves to be his high water mark for
points in a season. A lot of that has to do with injury which continues to grow
as a concern.
That rookie year in which he played just 62 games happens to
be the most hockey he’s ever played in his life.
Since moving to the WHL he has played 56 (WHL), 62 (AHL), 44
(AHL), 49 (AHL+NHL), and 31 (AHL+NHL) games in a season. That’s a problem. He’s
had ankle, knee, and shoulder injuries limit him in his quest to fulfill his
draft day promise. Then last year just as things started looking up he was
involved in an on-ice collision that lacerated his spleen.
I think it is fair to openly question whether or not this
young man’s body is capable of handling the rigors of professional hockey. For
that reason, alongside his inability to contribute offensively or play center,
I think we can also question whether or not the Oilers should even offer
Pitlick a new deal.
All the things that got him drafted are still there. He’s
fast. He’s physical. He does have a quick release (albeit one that still doesn’t
put pucks in the net). He has NHL size. But despite all those attributes he has
not been a successful player and there is little else that points to him
overcoming his chronic injuries and ineffectiveness.
It’s time to move on. At this time he cannot be counted on
to remain in an NHL lineup. The Oilers could save the money on a new deal for
Pitlick and also save money on the inevitable medical fees and rehabilitation costs
that come with him. And frankly there are better players who can use spots on
the NHL roster.
Pete Chiarelli comes in with no ties to these players and
unlike the young cluster that includes Hall, Eberle, Yakupov, and even Justin
Schultz, there’s nothing to suggest Pitlick’s skills and contributions can’t be
replicated for cheap by players like Steve Pinizzotto. Chiarelli has no reason to objectively look at what this player has done and extend him a precious contract.
It’s time to walk away, or in the case with this player,