When the Bakersfield Condors opened the season, there was much discussion about the young crop of forwards joining the team. Xavier Bourgault
, the first-round pick from 2021, garnered a lot of attention. Carter Savoie
, the local boy who did good in the NCAA championships, was also highly thought of.
The third member of this new forward group, Tyler Tullio
, a 5th-round pick in 2020, was covered far less as the new Condors season began. This was despite the fact Tullio had 42 goals in 65 games in his final OHL season with the Oshawa Generals. To be fair, the first half of Tullio’s pro career perhaps warranted the limited coverage. However, by season’s end, Tullio performed at a level that ensured everyone knew who he was.
More importantly, Tullio demonstrated skills and progress that make him a legitimate NHL prospect.
What Did I See This Year?
Tullio, like Bourgault and Savoie, had struggles this season. He had injuries that cost him several games in the season. The coaching staff also limited his minutes early in the season and often sat him on the bench in critical junctures and also played a healthy dose of fourth-line minutes.
Then came the Christmas break.
Those who read my work know that I credited a change in the coaching staff’s thought process on the young players at the break around Christmas. The kids were given more ice, with more skilled linemates and in more high-leverage situations. Tyler Tullio was a recipient of this change in perspective and Tullio rewarded the coaching staff’s faith in him. Tullio finished the season with 13-13—26 in 62 games.
These point totals may seem subpar, but Tullio entered the Christmas break with only eight points. The 2023 part of the season saw a maturation in Tullio’s game that included a streak of 16 points in 17 games. Tullio slowed to finish the season after missing four games with an undisclosed injury that really impacted his play. Nevertheless, for players under 21, Tullio finished 22nd in scoring in the AHL and gave the Oilers organization another NHL prospect.
The Skating Skills
Tyler Tullio is 5’10 and 165 pounds. No matter what the Edmonton Oilers development program for him does, it will not make him taller. Yes, he can gain muscle mass that will improve his strength, but he will often give up height to his opponents. So the first thing you want to assess is his skating skills. Tullio came to pro hockey with a reputation of being a slower skater who had balance issues. Here is a clip that shows what people were talking about.
The stride is pretty fundamentally good. There is a good power stance. The knees are over the toes and there is nice flex in the hips. This creates a nice stride length. The part that is of concern on the stance is his upper body tilt. The chest gets a little too forward. This definitely impacts the strength of the stride, as well as his balance and also impairs his ice vision. In terms of motion, the skates return to center quickly and are relatively low to the ice. This allows for additional strides generating additional speed. All in all, good for junior, but not a strong point for an AHL rookie.
Now we have another clip from almost a year later in Bakersfield. Let’s watch the video and then compare.
From my perspective, there is a noticeable improvement here. The stance piece has not changed in the lower body, which is great. However, look at the chest. You can see that logo almost all the way down the ice. He has that nice bend in the knees instead of in his back. Notice how easily he generates power now with his stride. Also love the two stride crossovers which help with speed generation, but also make him harder to defend by opponents backing up.
Tullio’s skating will be make or break for his NHL chances in my opinion. At this point, his development in this skill has been very positive.
How About The Hands?
Tullio’s most notable skills are not his hands. However, I happen to think his puck skills are going to help him professionally. Watch this shift where Tullio shows both an ability to handle close-quarters checking and also does a nice job protecting the puck by moving his feet and getting his hands away from the defender.
Here is another clip that illustrates Tullio’s creativity and patience with the puck.
Finally, here is a great clip of how Tullio handles the puck at speed and then when he gives up the puck, he puts himself into a nice position to get another look. He’s got excellent offensive zone vision as well.
While Tullio’s puck skills do not get a lot of attention, a player of his size will need to be able to manage the puck in close quarters and to protect the puck from bigger defenders. There is nothing from his first year in Bakersfield that would raise concern.
Smaller Size, Bigger Shot
I watched a bit of Tullio in the OHL, but clearly did not watch him close enough because Tullio can shoot the puck. Mostly with Tullio I think it is release. I have seen hints that the power of his shot is also good, but the release is legitimately exciting. The puck comes off his stick with very little backswing. He generates a lot off his deep lower body flex that assists the release. This gives the goalie very few queues that the puck is coming. Also, Tullio’s shot is very accurate.
The Man Has A Big Brain
To me, this is the most exciting part of Tullio’s game. As a smaller player, Tullio will need to rely on some other skills. One skill that I believe is a huge advantage for Tullio is his hockey sense. Here is a great clip on this on display. Tullio works hard back to mark his man. Then when he sees the slot coverage broken down, he moves over to cover that man. Finally, he quickly adjusts back to an outlet option when he sees his teammate win the possession. This does not come natural to a lot of players.
Here is another example of Tullio’s hockey sense on the penalty kill. Watch how he moves his stick between lanes reading the eyes of the puck carrier. The second movement deflects the puck and Tullio makes the clear. Then something that likely seems trivial to most, he takes a shot that gets put out of play. Why is this a big deal? The penalty kill faceoff is a long ways away from the Condors net.
The Fans Gonna Love The Motor
Tullio’s most obvious element for most fans is his energy. This is going to make him an absolute fan favorite should he make the Edmonton Oilers in the coming years. His persistent forecheck creates lots of opportunities for his teammates and himself. No words are required to describe this shift. Just enjoy.
Here is another couple of energetic shifts from Tullio. Watch the determination, but more importantly how often his feet are moving. He becomes very hard to check given his unwillingness to stand in one spot.
Lest you think Tullio is not into the physical side of the game. There were a handful of these events over the year from Tullio.
For Tullio, his first pro year was a journey with ebbs and flows. However, there was certainly enough out of the fifth-round pick as a rookie to be optimistic about the future. For Tullio, getting bigger and stronger will be key. The skating is improved, but more work on it will certainly help. Next year, Tullio will need to establish himself as a top-six forward and continue his development specialty teams.
I’ve said on Twitter that I could see Tullio making an impact in the NHL before Bourgault or Savoie. Not because he has more high-end skills, but because Tullio has more ways to make the NHL. He could be a scorer for certain in a middle-six role. He also could be a bottom-six forward who plays with energy and chips in on the penalty kill given his hockey sense.
Whatever the path for Tullio, the fact there is a vision of a path for a fifth-round pick should be a rewarding feeling for the scouts that drafted Tullio in 2020.