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: