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PRINCIPE: Pitlicking his wounds

In his latest blog, Gene Principe looks at how far Oilers prospect Tyler Pitlick has come

by Gene Principe @GenePrincipe / Sportsnet

On a night where so many eyes were focused on Connor the Captain and his breathtaking pair of goals versus Winnipeg there was a goal scored by an almost forgotten young man. A player who was supposed to help the Oilers turn their team around. He wasn't expected to be the leader of the turnaround, but a role player with a part (maybe small, but possibly big) in making Edmonton a better hockey team. It hasn't happened until now and maybe, just maybe, there is still a chance to salvage the expectations that were once heaped on Tyler Pitlick.

As crass as this sounds there will always be players at an NHL training camp, and for that matter, any pro sports camp who have little to no chance to make the team. They are there because they were drafted by the club and the team feels some loyalty to having them around. With the pre-season schedule, the most simple math shows that you need bodies for the games, especially when you fall into split-squad scenarios. There's also filling out your minor league affiliates and basically having your mind made up on who will be playing anywhere but the NHL. Pitlick wasn't that guy yet but his career might have been just a few stops away from that being the case.

Before that could happen, something changed. Something in his mind and in his body. Knowing that this might be his best chance or his last chance, the forward has been one of the pleasant surprises at training camp. He proved it again Thursday night with another goal. I can't help but find myself cheering for him. An underdog, a long-shot who seemed to be destined for another trip to the American Hockey League. However, tired of playing the up-and-down game of pro hockey, Pitlick made it a point to stay and he's done about everything possible for that to happen.

It wasn't ever supposed to be this way for the second-round pick in 2010. He was chosen with the top selection in round two. Edmonton got their Taylor Hall at number one and their Tyler at number 31. Hall was considered the player to lead the charge in the rebuild and Pitlick was supposed to be there to help him out. It never worked out that way. If you are looking for reasons, injuries would be at the top of the list. The 24-year-old has suffered though a knee injury, a concussion and a lacerated spleen. All bad enough to keep him from competing and completing a season. After a solid 62-game rookie year the winger went on to play 44 games, 49 games, 31 games and 37 games in the last four years. Among those were 27 spent in the NHL. Not enough playing time or time to develop to make the Oilers on a full-time basis.

That is until 2016 and he's not a lock to make it but maybe, more importantly, he's not a lock not to make it. A wordy way of saying Tyler Pitlick is trying to prove something to his team and to himself. It's been a physical and mental strain on the young man who turns 25 on November 1. He's been through a lot - but never quit - and now he's the closest he's ever been to starting the season in Edmonton. A tale in perseverance and never giving up on your dream.

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