Tyler Pitlick: Time To Walk Away

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
asset.

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
Central Scouting.

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
Tyler Pitlick.

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
the puck.”

Miss

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.

Bump

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,
limp away. 

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    Disagrre Matt. Agree with your assessment of the facts but there is a player in there that I believe needs someone who believes in him.I think that the tools and skills he brings will in time be used on the fourth line along with a player like Khahari and Moroz. I think Pitlick needs another chance and a two contract.Put him in Bakersfield this season and get his confidence up and let him get comfortable being on the ice again.

  • TKB2677

    I agree with people that Pitlick and his injury problems have hampered his development. But what concerns me is when he is healthy, he doesn’t produce. 21 goals in 159 games at the AHL level is terrible. If you can’t produce some offense at the AHL, you will never produce offense at the NHL level. Even if you are a career 4th liner, you need to be able to produce 5-10 goals a year.

  • TKB2677

    Anyone else read his scouting report and think they were talking about Lawson Crouse?

    Big body, skates well, great shot, David Backes type, all kinds of skill (but his stat line isn’t where you’d think it’d be offensively), but don’t worry, he looks like a hockey player.

    Red Flag for Crouse

  • TKB2677

    The thing about Crouse is he is really big. 6’4, 215 as ab 18 yr old. He could easily put on another 10-15 just filling out. Pitlick is barely 200 and he is 23 so he’s probably as big as he is going to get.

    • TKB2677

      That doesn’t change anything. If he’s that big and physically dominant now (and you use size as your argument), where are the stats? He should be able to impose his will on Jr. sized players with his MAN strength and put up some serious numbers. They’re not bad stats, but they aren’t great. When he moves up and loses that physical edge (strength gap will be bigger in jr than in the pro’s even at 230 lbs) what will change? The stat line is likely going to read the same (under preform for his tools). Ethan Moreau was that guy in a nut shell. Skates like the wind, heavy shot, bigger body, sub par offense.

      Crouse has not been a game changer in Jr. thinking he’ll be a game breaker in the NHL is insane. I wouldn’t spend more than a late round first (20-35) range on him.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    Not so sure I want to give up on: (1) Size. (2) Toughness. (3) Speed (4) Decent skill……..Isn’t that exactly what we need in our top 9? Sure he has to stay healthy, produce but we do not have a bunch of these guys in the organization…I can think of about 10 others to dump before Pitlick…

  • oilerjed

    I give him a one year deal to make sure he is what he looks like. He may just surprise everyone if he stays healthy for awhile. Definitely better then Purcell in my mind.

  • Kevwan

    Personally I like Pitlick. When he is in the lineup he brings effort and energy that stands out on a team that obviously lacks what he offers. Let’s face it Rexall is far from the scariest place for NHL teams to visit.

    The injuries are a cause for concern no doubt. His recovery from them to get back to the NHL level show his commitment and off ice work ethic. They have also certainly stunted his development. He’s a 23 yr old with the on ice experience of a 21 yr old. There still should be potential for growth in his game.

    For those of you venting on Henderson -relax. He’s a very good writer and a welcome addition to ON. These are the types questions Chiarelli has to examine with the Oilers, like it or not.

  • Wax Man Riley

    interesting perspective but I agree with many here. He’s been an asset when he plays.

    The injury thing is a flag but it’s too early to give up on him. Particularly since that last injury was a spleen due to impact which doesn’t indicate a chronic injury.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Pitlick was, at best, a “project” forward. He was a guy with a bunch of physical tools but was mostly undeveloped. The Oilers did a lot of right things with him but the fact of the matter is, he’s kind of fragile.

    That’s not anyone’s fault – not Pitlick’s and not the Oilers’. Many people think that just because all the tools are there, they should automatically coalesce into a player, but not everyone has the physical body to handle the pounding.

    At this point, I’d be all for cutting Pitlick loose, but I’d also be OK with giving him one more kick at the can. But I do think Jujhar Khara is another “project” forward on the horizon and even though he appears to have zero scoring ability, he seems to have the big body that the Oilers will want on the bottom six.

  • Joy S. Lee

    This will be long winded but here is my take. Pitlick is still young and for being 23 doesn’t have alot of NHL experience mostly due to opportunity and also because of injuries that have setback his career. He has some size and can play with a physical edge. He is the type of player the Oilers should absolutley have some more patience with and allow more time for development. But, there have been major changes to the Oilers in the last few weeks and I expect there will be more changes to come this offseason with a new coach, the draft and free agency. When changes like this sweep a team or any company more often some people end up on the outside looking in.

    I’d give Pitlick another year and I’d like to see how he shows up to camp this year. Hopefully he is healthy and stronger and with some fire in his belly to compete for a roster spot. Whether he makes the Oilers or plays in the AHL, I just want to see him have his best year, stay healthy and improve his numbers.

    If he turn things around then the Oilers should continue his development.

    But, if he can’t stay healthy and has another sub par year offensively than it may be time the Oilers wish him luck and move on from the asset. There is only so long you can hope for a player to breakout.

  • Joy S. Lee

    I agree with most commenters, because Pitlick is capable of ADDING to the teams’ chemistry where team chemistry is most suspect. A game is cyclical just like a season is, and players who bring varying elements to the game being used to swing momentum for the home team are the lifeblood of a good coach. Good coaching may be (coming) here, now or soon; THAT’s WHO SHOULD DECIDE what this youngster’s capacity is for the NHL.

    For those who say he doesn’t score enough, remember that the average game is 3-2, five goals among 40 or so players on the ice (8:1). Many players don’t “score a lot.” Pitlick brings intangibles the Oilers need for their chemistry; unless better alternatives are in the fold, it would be silly to cut bait with this player now. I agree with others who say Purcell vs Pitlick is a really easy choice to make.

  • TKB2677

    Opportunity cost – In evaluating Pitlick, you have to also factor in the potential cost of keeping Pitlick as opposed to someone else they could pick up to fill the role of a bottom 6 energy player who plays “heavy”. Could Pitlick turn into a player? I hope so; I like the way he plays.

    But the benefit of having a new GM is that he is not invested in any of the team, so he can be more objective in determining whether he wants to keep a player like Pitlick, or finds someone else to play the role.

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    I disagree with your assessment, Matt. I think Pitlick, although he may never turn that corner completely, is a valuable asset even still.

    He is young, has decent size, and isn’t afraid to use it. Sure, it has led to injury – but game over game I will take that any day over not using that size and energy. As far as I’m concerned he is just coming into his peak physically, and considering the injuries he’s had we likely haven’t seen that yet with him.

    Once he gets and stays healthy I think we can evaluate him completely…but as someone before me already said, the fact he has come back from all those injuries to be able to play at the NHL level does speak volumes to his commitment and attitude. Those are important things to bank on.

    He may never stay healthy, but if he EVER does….there is a player there. Considering the style of team we have we need every player that plays his style of game on deck, not being afraid to mix it up physically.

    Now if a team were willing to trade for him would I consider giving him up in that case? I would. But there has to be a cost for doing so. Giving up on a 23 year old asset with the size, tenacity and talent you are hoping for in your organization – is, in my opinion, just asking to repeat the same process years (and years) later.