When the 2022/23 Bakersfield Condors began, three 20-year-old rookie forwards populated the team.
There was the 1st round pick, Xavier Bourgault who had taken the QMJHL by storm the year prior. The second was a local boy that everyone from St. Albert to Sherwood Park and those in between (especially at Rogers’s Place) knew: Carter Savoie. The final, and least talked about 20-year-old, was a 5’10” 165-lb center drafted in the fifth round: Tyler Tullio. When the water cooler talk would get going on these three rookies, people might have bantered back and forth about whether Bourgault or Savoie might have the better season, but rarely would Tullio’s name get a mention. Well, a funny thing happened on the streets of Bakersfield: Tyler Tullio decided he wanted to enter the discussion all on his own. We talk about Tullio, why writers cramp can be a good thing and much more in this week’s Edmonton Oilers’ Prospect Report.
Who Caught My Attention?
I have documented the Tullio journey on a couple of occasions in the Prospect Report. Limited minutes, benchings and scratches all littered his first half of the season. As with the other young prospects, the holiday break seemed to provide a respite for Tullio and the coaching staff. The staff started to play him up the lineup with a heavier workload. He also started to get some specialty team minutes on the powerplay. The coup de grace was pairing him with Raphael Lavoie. Then Tullio took off. In his last eight games, he has four goals and five assists for nine points. He had eight points in his first 26 games of the season. He is also up to a half point per game on average.
It is here that I want to take a commercial break and applaud the Condors’ coaching staff. The Tullio breakout didn’t come right away. After the break, he had one point in six games. The staff stuck with him and it paid off. When I see Oilers fans talk about prospects “earning their minutes or deployment,” it drives me crazy. No question a player needs to do what is required by the team to get those minutes, but don’t hang markers like point totals on a player as a reason not to continue playing a skill player with another skill player or giving him power-play minutes. Work ethic? Yea sure, demand it. Discipline in terms of structure and penalties, bring it on. Just don’t make a skilled player earn his minutes through points. If he’s working hard and doing good things, run him out there over and over with your team’s best players. It will click. It did for Tyler Tullio and Coach Chaulk need to be congratulated. Here is an example. A great read and a quick, accurate pass. Watch the Griffith reaction. Tells you all you need to know about the quality of that play from Tullio.
So what happened this week for Tullio? Well in 3 games this week, Tullio had a goal and two assists for three points. The partnership of him and Raphael Lavoie has continued to elicit tremendous results as you can see in this video.
What I really like about what is happening with Tullio is that his pace of play is speeding up. His reads are faster and his touches are quicker. His feet are always in motion as well – an important element for him for certain. What I believe is happening is a two-fold development: he’s more confident and he’s sorted out how he fits into the pro game at the AHL level.
The first aspect can be attributed to the coaching staff in a large part as we outlined above. Success on the score sheet also helps out. The second part more relates to the hockey sense of Tullio. When Tullio was drafted I was very impressed with how he thought the game in all three zones. When he got the AHL, he looked like he was struggling with that element. Slow on reads and slow to move his feet on plays. I now wonder if this is related to him trying to process how he should play at the AHL level. What is certain is that he is processing the game much better now. Watch this benign little defensive series. First, an excellent backtrack effort by Tullio to mark his man. Then he makes a great read on a dangerous player in the slot and marks him quickly. Finally, he flares out to the wall to receive an outlet pass and exit the zone. This is quality stuff that doesn’t go unnoticed by coaches.
The other element I continue to marvel at is how much Tullio’s skating has developed. Take a look at this clip from his junior days. His edge work is a little weak, but workable at the junior level. His balance is really not great; even losing his balance at a slower pace.
Now take a look at this shift from this week. His knee flex is really strong and he has a good stance. He’s a little more upright which also helps with balance by getting more centered over top of his knees instead of his toes. The big plus is all those little two-step crossovers that create additional power, but also a more lateral line of attack at defenders.
This is massive improvement for Tullio. Indeed, of the three 20-year-olds, Tullio is easily the strongest on his skates. While Bourgault and Savoie both have struggled with this against bigger, stronger players, Tullio doesn’t have these struggles often. I think this skating development has even assisted with Tullio’s physical game making him an absolute pain in the ass to play against.
Tullio is on a good path of development right now. He needs to keep progressing in all facets. One area that I hope Tullio focuses on is getting more shots away. He is averaging a little more than 1.5 shots per game, which is too low. Even in this heater he is on, he is only averaging one shot per game. His shot is very strong and he has beat AHL goalies from distance this year. Getting more shots away will almost certainly lead to more offence for both him and his linemates.
While Tyler Tullio might have been the least talked about of the three rookie forwards on the Condors, he is making a case that he might have the most pathways to play NHL games for the Edmonton Oilers.
I wrote some time ago now that the more I write about Raphael Lavoie, the better. When Lavoie is good, he’s noticeable on every single shift. When Lavoie is disengaged, you have to scour the bench to see if he’s even in the game. Well, the writer’s cramp I have talking about Lavoie weekly is a welcome development. Lavoie is pushing hard now with 15 points in his last 14 games including six goals. He is now second on the team in scoring and has an excellent .69(Nice!) points per game. Depending on what the Oilers do with Puljujarvi, Yamamoto and even Klim Kostin, he certainly could be a viable call up candidate. He’s also playing well enough that he could be valued by a team in a trade deadline deal. The clip that sums up where Lavoie is right now is this one below. The biggest historical knock on Lavoie has been his work rate. The frustrating part being that when he is working hard, he is very difficult to handle. Watch the enthusiasm of Lavoie on this shift.
Lavoie also had a highlight goal this week that will have Oilers fans dreaming about what a one-touch shooter could do with all those talented Oilers forwards.
This week also saw Lavoie reinforce his commitment to his own zone. While the prior video will surely have fans clamouring for what he could do offensively, I think Lavoie will be a bottom-six forward if he makes the NHL. That means he really needs to have a command of his defensive responsibilities in all three zones. I actually believe he could be a very good checking forward as his play at the World Juniors a few years ago showed. He’s got a very quick and strong stick and he has excellent hands in tight. Clips like this are becoming commonplace and I would think this is being well-received in Edmonton.
However, it works out for Raphael Lavoie, he has certainly done what he needs to do in order to make Ken Holland take notice.
I mean he just keeps going. Another goal and assist this week and he climbs to 11 points on the year. Seven of those points have come after the Christmas break. The big right-shot center had another very productive week. The defensive side of his game is well-developed, so continuing to score is the key. Here is a clip that demonstrates a variety of his skills that have really been impressive. He’s hard on the forecheck. Uses his body so well to puck protect. Has really nice vision, which was a surprise for me. Also, the boots never stop moving the entire shift.
His goal this week displayed another part of his game that caught me by surprise. He has very nice hands for a big, defensive-minded forward. There is always interest in big, right-handed centers that can win faceoffs. Noah Philp just needs to keep scoring to make sure people in the NHL take notice.
Well that is all for this week folks. The schedule is much heavier for the junior ranks next week, so we will get to see some updates from the younger prospects. As always, you can find me at @bcurlock and thanks for reading.