Tyler Pitlick's first game in six weeks showed just what a process it is to play in the NHL.
The speedy winger, who missed 30 games following wrist surgery, played just 4:48 in a shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday. Still, in that span, Pitlick said he had several learning moments and also felt he gained confidence on a couple of plays.
"I thought it was good," Pitlick said after practice Monday. "I didn't play a lot, obviously, but I thought with the ice I had, I did just fine. I didn't feel like I was behind or panicking with the puck.
"There were a few times where I thought I could have maybe made a different play, but that's going to happen no matter what."
Pitlick's learning moment was an interesting one.
He was carrying the puck in the offensive zone, moved it to his backhand and put a harmless shot toward the net. He said when reviewing the film, he had plenty of time to get a better shot off, and said he heard John Klingberg and saw Jason Dickinson and processed the information too quickly.
Video: Montgomery, Fedun talk Stars' push for playoff spot
"I had that one chance in the slot where I took a backhand and I watched on video and I could have easily pulled back to my forehand and taken a really hard shot," he said "I heard Klinger out of this ear and I saw Dickinson at the front of the net, and I thought, `Let's get it there.' But if I would have pulled to my forehand, I would have got a heck of a shot."
And that's part of the process as Pitlick tries to get his game back up to speed. Pitlick averages 13:29 in time on ice in 44 games this season. He has six goals and four assists for 10 points. He's an important part of what the Stars like to do.
Asked what Pitlick adds to the team, coach Jim Montgomery said: "Speed, tenaciousness on the puck, he's someone who plays a relentless-style of game. It's good to have him back, because if he's going to play in the playoffs, he needs to get into a rhythm."
Montgomery said he believes Pitlick has the ability to do that in the three games remaining.
"He needs to get in a rhythm, because the second and third effort needed in this league does not come naturally," Montgomery said. "You have to get back into it."
Pitlick believes he can find his groove. He said the time rehabbing allowed him to work on his skating, which might be his greatest asset. He said he also believes he can add physicality, as he's fourth on the team in hits per game at 2.0.
Video: DET@DAL: Pitlick beats Bernier with sizzling wrister
"I always want to score, but I think my game is I use my speed to get in on the forecheck, I take pucks in the zone and hang onto them, and then I'm physical," he said, pointing out a hit he had on Tim Schaller a shift before Andrew Cogliano scored his goal Saturday.
"I feel like my hit in the third period that came just before we scored, that could have been a spark for us," Pitlick said. "That may have got us going, I hope it did, and those are things I can add."
Of course, he can also add goals. He had 14 among 27 points in 80 games last season, and has been a nice boost to the team's even strength scoring depth since signing a three-year, free-agent contract for $1 million a season in 2017.
He said he doesn't feel the tendon surgery in his wrist will curtail his ability to score
"It's finding a way to tape it just to keep it sturdy, but it also is tender. So you don't want to put too much tape on it. Just trying to find a balance," Pitlick said. "I'm shooting the puck pretty well, I'm stickhandling."
And now, he has to do it on a consistent basis.
Video: DAL@NSH: Pitlick finishes give-and-go with Faksa
In addition to Pitlick's return, Mats Zuccarello also is looking to come back into the lineup after recovering from a broken arm. With the potential for four extra forwards on the current roster, that means somebody could be sitting out.
Asked what the determining factor will be in his decisions, Montgomery said: "They earn their way."
"Obviously, when Zuccarello is ready to play, he's going to play and somebody is going to come out. A guy like Pitlick wants to play, and these games are going to be important that he earns his way in," Montgomery added. "And the other guys who have been playing and helping us the last seven or eight weeks, they've got to keep playing the right way so that they have a chance to stay in the lineup.
"It's a healthy thing to have, especially for us coaches."
You can expect Pitlick will give everything he has to stay in the lineup.
"You miss the guys and you miss the team," Pitlick said of his rehab. "It's a great time to be getting back. I'm excited about it."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.