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Photo Credit: Billy Hurst/USA TODAY Sports

Does free agent Tyler Pitlick have an Oilers future after his breakout season?

2016-17 Edmonton Oilers: No. 15 RW Tyler Pitlick

When the Edmonton Oilers drafted Tyler Pitlick with the 31st overall selection of the 2010 Draft, it was with the idea that the multi-tool forward would play an important supporting role behind Taylor Hall and the rest of the rebuilding team’s star players. Seven years and countless injuries later, Pitlick finally showed that he could play in the majors – just in time to qualify for unrestricted free agency.

It really was a remarkable season. There are some important caveats, which we’ll get to in a moment, but for now it’s worth just appreciating the best season in a difficult career.

Pitlick didn’t get a lot of ice-time, but still managed 11 points in 5-on-5 situations. That makes him one of just three Oilers forwards to play at least 200 minutes and score more than 2.0 points/hour at even-strength. The other two names on that list are Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

He hit career highs in NHL games played (31), goals (8) and points (11). He was also a consistent physical irritant, averaging 2.3 hits/game (tied with Patrick Maroon for third on the team) while getting just 10 minutes of ice time per night.

For one season, Pitlick finally looked exactly like the player he was supposed to be coming out of college, a player an unnamed scout described to The Hockey News back in 2010:

He’s an up-and-down, grinding type who has some skill. He’s a strong kid who goes hard to the net and can score and likes to hit. He’s a solid NHL-type winger.

Now, Pitlick qualifies as a Group 6 unrestricted free agent under Article 10.1 (c) of the CBA. Any skater aged 25 or older who has completed three-plus professional seasons and has played fewer than 80 NHL games becomes a UFA. Pitlick is 25, has played six pro seasons, and has only 58 major-league games on his resume. Thus he’s free to sign with any club, and he and the Oilers need to decide if it makes sense to go forward together.

From an Edmonton perspective, there are several reasons to move on.

The obvious one is injury. Pitlick played 31 games last season before being knocked out of the lineup with a torn ACL this season; over six seasons as a pro he has averaged just 42 regular season games/year. The last time he dressed for 50-plus regular season games, he was a rookie pro in 2011-12.

The second thing is that Pitlick may not be able to repeat the success he had in 2016-17. It was driven almost entirely by goals; he scored eight times on 54 shots, a 14.8 shooting percentage at the NHL level. Compare that to his AHL shooting percentage over the last three years:

  • 2015-16: seven goals on 83 shots (8.4 SH%)
  • 2014-15: three goals on 36 shots (8.3 SH%)
  • 2013-14: eight goals on 100 shots (8.0 SH%)

Those are the three best shooting percentage seasons of Pitlick’s AHL career. Maybe he had a career-changing offseason in summer 2016, but the smart money is on him not being a 15 percent shooter in the NHL. If he isn’t, his offence disappears.

The Oilers have other cheap depth options at forward and specifically at right wing, with the more versatile Iiro Pakarinen a logical candidate for Pitlick’s roster spot next season. Given that Edmonton can’t reasonably expect Pitlick to be healthy or to duplicate this year’s performance, moving on makes sense.

Bottom line: Pitlick’s 2016-17 campaign was a great story and it’s hard not to be happy that a long-suffering player was finally rewarded for his perseverance. The NHL is a ruthless business, though, and the player is going to be hard-pressed to do it again.

Previous year-end reviews:

  • Sorge

    Unless the price is outrageous why not bring him back for a bottom of the roster player? He brings more to the table than Pakarinen, Hendricks and Desharnais will surely be gone. He one of our faster players which we could have used in the playoffs as players like Lucic, Maroon and Eberle seemed to be a step behind. His injury streak has to end at some point, doesn’t it?

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    There were reports that he travelled with the team during his recover. Even during the playoffs. If he’s considered a “part of the team” by the guys, then that may be reason enough to give him another shot. Think of it as a morale booster for the rest of the team. Something to get the other guys excited for the new season. Something for the other guys to cheer for.

    Of course, he has to contribute on the ice too. But his off-ice relationships and history with the team should count for… something.

    If he’s willing (hell, if I were him, I’d sign with Vegas to break the Oilers curse!), then I would bring him back for 1 more year. Worse case, he takes up 1 roster spot and is an expensive AHL vet (actually, worse case is… well… .y’know…).

  • FISTO Siltanen

    I can’t see why he wouldn’t sign for $750K-850k. He isn’t waiver exempt so some team might be interested and if he’s impressed the bosses enough to get one final look is that not better than climbing another organization’s ladder?

  • Rheal1 "Ontario Oilers Fan"

    I really liked how he played prior to his injury. He did very well on the PP as well. Bring him back. $5M/3 years? Same type money as for Desharnais (but I see Desharnais 2 seasons only, Yakimov will move DD out).

  • OilersDynasty

    Re-sign him. He only played 31 games, and sure his shooting% was high but I’m sure it would gone down to average had he played the entire year, and even if it didn’t, it’s not likely he would’ve gotten that much larger of a raise. He’s exactly what we need in our bottom-6 and man oh man, could we have used him in the playoffs.

  • 97ourSaviour

    I agree with resigning him. Even if for two years to make him happy, the team doesn’t have enough right handed shots so why not keep him for cheap, and hope the injury bug goes away

  • Shredder

    He’s got upside, will likely be cheap, and we need DEPTH at RW…seems like a no brainer to me. McDavid has the potential to turn this guy into a 30 goal scorer if he stays healthy. Hell, McD can TEACH him how to be healthy all year.

    Worrying thing for me: will his speed be an impactful part of his game like it was last year? After an ACL injury it’s hard to say.

  • Mike Krushelnyski

    Regardless of a shooting percentage spike, 54 shots in 31 games playing 10 minutes a night is pretty impressive. A quick right winger who shoots a lot is a great fit for this roster, I’d give him another shot.

  • TKB2677

    I would sign him back but I wouldn’t pay a lot for him. I can’t imagine he has a lot of leverage to ask for much. His sample size is so small. My only concern is he is the definition of a band aid. If an injury happens, chances are it’s Pitlick.

  • oilerjed

    This guy is a perfect example of how much luck it takes to get to the NHL even if you have the skills. If he could have managed to stay healthy for even two seasons in a row he would probably have a solid job in the NHL right now.
    Sign him, if anything he has shown that is is motivated to keep working to get what he wants. If he ever makes it as regular NHLer this is a guy that I don’t see ever taking it for granted.

  • Glass

    I would definitely offer him a one year contract. His style of play would have really benefit us in both our series against the Sharks and Ducks. Also love the idea of either Khaira/Gambardella on his line because I think they would really compliment Pitlick’s game and vice versa.

  • OriginalPouzar

    This is a no-brainer sign even if it requires a two-year deal. At the price it would cost, the cap hit can be buried in the minors if he doesn’t make the team and the only risk if the 50 contract limit.

    My reasoning is that he has a higher offensive potential than any of his competitors for the 12th/13th forward spot (Pak and JJ).

    If we are going to move Eberle we are going to need to replace his minutes and his offence on a value contract and Pitlick has shown that he may be able to provide a value contract.

  • urwarden

    I would have him back in a heartbeat. We just saw what type of skill blessed with grit that it takes to win in the playoffs. He will not give up the puck due to being scared of being hit either. I would sign for one year (or two for 2.1 mil). Put the the puck on his stick in the slot and he’s money. The thing is he takes the puck to the ugly places and then shoots. He does not shoot from the peripheral, miss the net and starts the European breakout back the other way.

  • Jaxon

    I’d sign him on a cheap 1 year contract ($900k or less). I doubt he’ll do 2-way as he would want to get picked up by another team if he gets sent down. However, I could see him signing for cheap with a team like his hometown Minnesota who is in need of wingers. If only to get out from under the bad luck he’s had in Edmonton. Once you adjust his output last season to his average SH%, he only has 4 goals and 3 assists in 31 games, which is a drastic difference.