In some ways the 2013-14 season was a tough one for Tyler Pitlick
, but it was also a milestone year for the 22-year-old forward as he achieved his goal of playing in the National Hockey League. Despite suffering setbacks due to injuries, Pitlick was able to get a taste of what the NHL has to offer.
Pitlick earned his first NHL call-up this season. But it was a celebration cut short when, just three games into his Oilers career, Pitlick suffered a knee injury in the same game he scored his first NHL goal. He would battle back to return to the ice for the Oklahoma City Barons in the American Hockey League, before returning to Edmonton in March. He played seven more games for the Oilers, while battling more knee issues down the stretch.
“It’s been a huge season for me getting that opportunity to go up there and show them what I’ve got and just to know that I can play up there in that I have what it takes and just to get my foot in the door,” Pitlick said following the season. “I know what I’ve got to do this summer to hopefully stay up there next year.”
For Pitlick, it was good just to get that taste of the NHL. The Minnesota native saw what it will take for him to play at that level and can move forward with a plan to achieve that style of play. It’s all about keeping things simple.
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“He’s a strong guy, he has great speed and he has some skill, but he has to play a straight-lined game up and down his wing, being physical in the corners, finishing his checks, shooting the puck and keeping things simple,” Oklahoma City Head Coach Todd Nelson said earlier this season. “When he’s hitting people and he’s shooting the puck, he’s at his best. He’s always got pretty good wheels out there, he understands the game. Once again, it’s just a matter of being consistent.”
Nelson also said he believes Pitlick is ‘right there’ and that he’s, “knocking on the door to be a full-time NHLer.”
“The one thing I’ve seen with Tyler is a complete change in attitude from last year to this year,” Oilers Senior Director of Player Development Rick Carriere said. “There’s excitement in him. He’s had that taste of NHL-calibre hockey and he’s had some success there. Unfortunately he got hurt but he’s excited to get the call back to go up there again.”
Towards the end of the Barons season, Nelson singled out Pitlick as one of his more impressive players in OKC.
“I think Tyler Pitlick has to be talked about,” he said. “He’s taken his game to a whole new level and he’s ready to play up there. I see this guy as not being back in OKC next year, I see him playing in the National Hockey League… He’s really a lot more mature than he has been in previous years. He’s taken a quiet leadership role where he understands his play on the ice is contagious to the rest of the hockey team where he has to play a physical game and move his feet. As a coaching staff, we have confidence in him.”
“He’s been very strong and I see him knocking on the door to play in the NHL next year.”
Pitlick was a part of Oklahoma City’s impressive run to get into the AHL playoffs. It was a unique time for the forward who despite his age became one of the veterans in a young locker room.
“It was kind of a crazy season,” Pitlick said. “Lots of different things happened with guys going up and down and just new guys coming in and all that but we stuck together. (Coach Nelson) has got good systems and stuff so as long as we’re playing those I think we won some games. We went on that streak once (Mark) Arcobello came down. He helped out a lot and I think we won 15 games or something like that. It was definitely really good for us to make that push and get in the playoffs.”
He finished the season with 22 points (8-14-22) in 39 games for the Barons. His eight goals were a professional-career high and he finished at a better point-scoring pace than in the 2011-12 season when he scored 23 points (7-16-23) in 62 games.
Pitlick heads into an off-season of uncertainty with an RFA status as his entry-level deal with the Oilers has expired. Putting all that aside, Pitlick is just ready to relax, re-boot and prepare for next season.
“Go back to Minnesota, spend time with the family and maybe take a little vacation, work out and get ready for next year,” Pitlick said of his off-season plans.