EDMONTON, AB - Tyler Pitlick's career has been a stop-and-start affair, riddled with injuries and adversity that have stood in the way of this 2010 second-round pick making a nightly impact in the NHL.
The 2016-17 season, thus far in its infancy, has been a change for the 25-year-old forward. He came into the season with just three career NHL goals in 27 games. He has almost doubled that total with five in the first 15 of this campaign.
With injuries and line shuffling, he's thrust his way into a prominent top-nine spot on Leon Draisaitl's wing, after beginning camp as a bubble guy, and breaking in as a fourth-liner. He seems to contribute at least one big, physical hit each night and he's not averse to shooting the puck. He has 33 hits and 24 shots this season, and is second on the team in shooting percentage (20.8%).
"I like the way he plays," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "I like his tenacity, I like his speed, his ability to finish checks, he drives the puck to the post, has a heavy, hard release. There's a lot of real positives for him."
Pitlick, a prospect who has still seen more of his career in the American Hockey League to date than the NHL, hasn't "bought a house" yet, as they say. He hasn't moved from hotel life to permanent residency as he still has some proving to do.
Video: POSTGAME RAW | Todd McLellan
"I think Pitter will determine (his length of stay) more than I will," said McLellan.
"I think he can be an everyday NHL player, but that's going to be up to him as we move forward… I've seen players stay (in a hotel) all year and contribute. If I'm him I'd be happy to be in the hotel. He's had a great start… 'Don't take me out of there!'"
In Detroit last Sunday, Pitlick made the kind of impact he's shown he's capable of. Elevated to Draisaitl's line, Pitlick had some extra jump to his game with four shots in the opening 20 minutes - he'd finish the game with six.
In that first frame, Pitlick also scored a nice wraparound goal. His physical play came out with the three hits he recorded as well.
Pitlick's Friday night against Dallas was much of the same. He finished with six hits, including a couple of board-rattlers and three shots on goal.
One of those shots was Pitlick's fifth goal of the season. Dallas tried to ring the puck around the boards and break it out, but Pitlick kept it in. The winger worked the puck towards the net from the corner and potted a backhander with 28.4 seconds left in the first period.
McLellan said after the game the Oilers got "what we always get" from Pitlick.
"Simple, straight lines, hard, on his toes," said McLellan. "He makes an argument every night to be in the lineup. That's a great thing to see."
Throughout his professional career, Pitlick's coaches have had faith in him. They've pushed him to embrace his physical play and focus less on skill and finesse and more on playing an up-and-down-the-wing style of play and to keep moving his feet.
Before the season began, Pitlick said he was searching for consistency to his game. Fifteen games into 2016-17, he appears to have found some.