Tyler Pitlick debuted in the Oilers organization on October 9th, 2011 in Texas, as a member of the Oklahoma City Barons. He had an assist in his second game, and tallied a goal and an assist the next night. It was a fantastic start, but his next 220 pro games have been filled with anger, frustration and pain.
In five pro seasons Pitlick has played 196 games in the AHL and 27 in the NHL, but he’s missed 156 games due to injury. He’s missed 61 NHL games and 95 in the AHL.
Injuries have been a major factor in his inability to become a regular NHLer, however, last September during Oilers training camp and preseason Pitlick, in his own words, laid an egg and was sent down.
I spoke to Pitlick after he signed a one-year, two-way contract ($725,000 in NHL, $95,000 in AHL) with the Oilers.
He was very honest about last season’s training camp.
“I don’t know. I think … [pause] I just laid an egg. I don’t know what happened. I started really slow. I didn’t
have a good first few games, I thought that my last game was pretty good, but
it was too late; they had already made their decision and I got sent home right
after that game. I don’t think you can come into training camp slowly, you’ve
got to be firing right away and proving you are better than the guy next to
you. I’ve got to come in right away and play well this year,” said Pitlick.
What made it more frustrating for Pitlick was knowing there were jobs up for grabs. The Oilers had some openings in their bottom six and everyone had an equal chance to impress new head coach Todd McLellan.
Pitlick knows the situation. He’ll have to play exceptionally well to earn a spot, and considering Iiro Pakarinen earned McLellan’s trust last year it makes Pitlick’s task of making the roster even more daunting.
“Anyone in the bottom six is my competition.
Iiro Pakarinen and I will probably be battling against each other. We’re pretty
similar players, but we could both go in and have good camps and
both make the team, so it really doesn’t matter. I think, like you said,
there is a lot of uncertainty in the bottom six and I’m just going to go in and
do what I can. I’m not going to worry about what anyone else is doing,” said Pitlick.
He will employ a different approach at training camp this year.
“I think that I can be a little too nice sometimes because those guys are all my
buddies. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I think that there is
obviously a point, you don’t want to run someone from behind or anything stupid,
but you’ve got to play hard and you’ve got to prove yourself even in team
“They know when I am playing my game and when I’m healthy that I can compete for
a job. I’m not going to plan on going to the American League. I think that it
would be stupid for anyone to plan on starting in the AHL. I’m going to go in
there and compete for a job. I’m
getting desperate. I’m sick of playing in the American League.” he said bluntly.
Pitlick needs to get McLellan’s attention right away in training camp. He doesn’t have the luxury of being a veteran and getting the benefit of the doubt. He has NHL speed. He is good on the forecheck and he isn’t afraid to be physical. He also has some skill. He had a brutal first three months in Bakersfield last year, but showed his ability once he was healthy.
He got injured in the second game of the season. He returned three weeks later for one game, before sitting out another six weeks. He returned to play four games before missing another month. He played seven games between October and January 15th. He had no points.
He finally got healthy in January and produced 21 points during the next 24 games. He was OKC’s best forward, but he’ll need to stay healthy for more than a ten-week stretch if he wants to make the Oilers and then remain in the lineup.
He’ll come to camp hoping to be this year’s Brandon Davidson. Very few expected Davidson to make the team out of training camp. He dressed once in the Oilers first eight games, but once he got back in the coaches couldn’t take him out. He earned his spot, and Pitlick will need to do the same.
He will have new motivation this fall. Pitlick and his wife became parents in late April. His new daughter, Tatum, has added a lot of joy to his life, but it also made him realize he isn’t getting any younger. He’ll turn 25 in November. This is his sixth pro season and his window of opportunity gets smaller every year.
Not only will he compete against Pakarinen and the other veterans, he’ll have to outperform younger players like Drake Caggiula, Jujhar Khaira and others.
Pitlick sounded very determined when we spoke, but he was also very realistic. He knows what he is capable of, but he needs to stay healthy, and most importantly, he can’t lay another egg in training camp.
He needs to be focused from day one of camp. He’ll need to stand out early, and be consistent in the preseason if he wants to avoid not making the opening night roster for the sixth consecutive year.
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