The Edmonton Oilers are auditioning an intriguing forward option in Tyler Pitlick
. The 22 year-old has a big frame at 6-foot-2 and over 192 pounds, is quick and shows a knack for playing a checking game.
After a brief stint with the Oilers in October, which ended prematurely with a knee injury, Pitlick earned a second shot with the Oilers about a week ago when he was recalled from the Oklahoma City Barons.
At first, Head Coach Dallas Eakins described Pitlick as ‘tentative’ upon his return to the NHL. But the former second-round pick (31st overall) in 2010, had his self-described best game so far against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night.
Pitlick, particularly in the game’s first period, was flying around the ice and laying into his opponents, finishing his checks and playing smart with the puck.
“I think I feel a little bit more comfortable each game,” Pitlick said. “I’ve gotten better as time’s gone on and I don’t know, I was just skating. I was just skating and hitting and I felt a little more comfortable with the puck. I was chipping pucks out and just making the right plays. I don’t know, I felt better.”
Pitlick saw that tentativeness within himself when he first returned to Edmonton but he feels more comfortable now.
“Yeah, I think there definitely was a little bit (tentativeness) to start,” he said. “Coming up, it was my first game up here in a while and there’s some new systems that I was learning. It’s a lot different than down in OKC so that was a little bit of it too I think. Just kind of thinking a little bit out there when normally I just know what I’m doing and just skating. I think that might have had a little to do with it but now I’ve got the handle on everything and I’m feeling good, I’m skating, hitting and I think that’s what I’ve got to do.”
|Photo by Getty Images. |
Eakins admitted that he agreed with Pitlick, that the forward played a much better game against the Sharks, but still wants to see more from the young forward.
“I agree with him,” Eakins said. “I thought he had his best game yet, but not to where he was before for me. But at least he improved so that’s encouraging. All this kid has to do is he has to go up and down his wing, protect the puck, make good decisions and hit everything in sight. That’s all we’re looking for from him at this time.”
Pitlick has found his NHL game and that game is shooting the puck and hitting everything that moves. It works well for the rookie.
“I think it creates energy for everyone,” Pitlick said. “You go out there and get a couple of hits and people see that, see you’re working hard and you want to play. I think that’s contagious and if I get hit or give a hit, it’s definitely going to get me more in the game than if I’m just skating around and not really into it.”
Pitlick has also shown increased awareness on the ice when it comes to his style of play. Against Phoenix on October 26, Pitlick suffered a knee injury when he was hip-checked by Coyotes defenceman David Schlemko near the penalty boxes. Pitlick absorbed a hit very similar to that one against the Sharks on Tuesday night, but this time he skated right through it, bracing and protecting himself for the hit.
“I remember it,” Pitlick said of that hit in the Sharks game. “I knew I had to get the red line so I just chipped it by him and went through. I wasn’t thinking about the Phoenix hit or something like that. I think that’s just something you’ve got to do. You’ve got to go through hits to make plays.”
|Photo by Getty Images. |
Later that same period, a Sharks player skated in with the leverage and the speed to deliver a crushing blow on Pitlick, but the young player not only took the hit but he stood up his would-be assailant and delivered some repayment.
“Guys think you don’t see them coming but I always kind of see them coming and just try and give them as much as they’re trying to give me and see what happens.”
One thing Pitlick could add to that style of play is some offence. It’s something that has slowly come along for the forward in his professional career.
Pitlick went from being an over a 2.5 point-per-game player in high school in Minnesota to posting 62 points in 56 games with Medicine Hat in his first and only WHL season to scoring 23 points (7-16-23) in 62 games in his first American Hockey League season. His production dipped during the 2012-13 campaign, with him scoring just 10 points (3-7-10) in 44 games.
However, Pitlick has taken on a bigger role this season in OKC and is slowly finding that the points have come to him a little bit easier. He has 22 points (8-14-22) in 38 games with the Barons this season. He’s played well in the playoffs, scoring 13 points (4-9-13) in 29 postseason games with the Barons in the 2012 and 2013 playoffs..
As for finding his offence in the NHL, it’s a work in progress for Pitlick but it will take him doing a lot of the little things that he does best.
“He has to find his offence on how he finds his offence, how he does it in the American League and it’s quite simple,” Eakins said. “He’s a guy that’s going to drive and put pucks to the net. He’s not going to be able to play the Jordan Eberle game where he can cut in and beat guys to the inside. Pitlick is going to have to score his goes off the wing, popping out in the slot and driving the net, it’s that simple.”
With the way the Oilers young forward has moulded his play this season, his head coach in OKC has said he has pushed himself to the brink of becoming a full-time NHL player. Todd Nelson went as far as to say Pitlick would not be in the AHL next season.
“He’s taken his game to a whole new level and he’s ready to play up there,” Nelson said in an interview prior to Pitlick’s latest call up. “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.”
He’s still growing as a player and could use some more games to get even more comfortable at this level, but Pitlick has shown progress and development as a prospect for the Oilers. As a restricted free agent at the end of this season, he is a player the Oilers will look at extending this summer.