Our current Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, once said something about toughness. Always good for a memorable quote round-up, Biden said, “Life is a matter of really tough choices”. This isn’t a comment that breaks new ground on what life is all about, but it does point to the ability the Veep has to be openly honest about the state of the country, even if he’s occasionally way off base. (he was actually speaking in reference to going after tax cuts for the wealthy *shoulder shrugs*) . So I’ll steal that mantra for just a bit, and place it upon the shoulders of one Oilers prospect with some tough choices on the horizon.
Tyler Pitlick just completed his second year as a pro hockey player. He’s been relatively interesting to watch for many reasons. When he hit the Barons roster out of training camp in 2011, he would later be known as one of the few Oilers prospects not to be placed in the ECHL for a spell. Martindale, Abney, Hamilton, etc. all earned their stripes in Stockton before getting clobbered in the AHL. For Pitlick, he was a fit in a Barons lineup as a tough board play guy, who had some incredible potential as a scorer.
The 31st overall pick has shown brief flashes of grand play. Nowhere near his 62 poitns in 56 games with Medicine Hat, Pitlick has struggled to find his niche within an organization that desperately needs high picks to back fill the depth chart on their roster. Between knee injuries and concussions in the same season, Pitlick struggled mightely in 2012-13. The lockout didn’t help, but he just couldn’t stay healthy enough to find consistency. In the 2012 Calder Cup run by the Barons, Pitlick wielded his might scoring touch, and scored 7 points in 13 games. It felt like a coming out party, so to speak, and the excitement of the sophomore season began. He’d return to the doldrums in the first 20 games of the half-season lockout.
Injuries aside, Pitlick has been asked by coaches on the farm to do a couple of things – be tough on the boards, cradle the puck with care, crash/bang/hit opposing players off the puck, and start to stretch your offense towards the net. He’s done these things with such a slow pace that you wondered if he was fully grasping the need they were trying to convey.
Several long droughts, another knee injury, and a return to the lineup only allowed Tyler to net 3 goals and 7 assists in 44 games played. That’s production quality, that despite playing fewer games, has gone downhill pretty quickly. But as we saw a season ago, he’d have a pretty good postseason scoring 2 goals and 4 assists in 16 games, and was used heavily on a third line featuring captain Josh Green and centerman C.J. Stretch. They faced stiff competition on the ice, and the bets favored Pitlick scoring nil, but he managed his moments very well. He had some moments of defensive forward play, and I think he may have won me back momentarily.
Pitlick, like Hamilton, is a guy that just can’t stay healthy enough to get a full head of steam. When he does, he starts to move towards being the player you think he could be. Is that really enough? As of right now, no, mainly because you have Toni Rajala having a ridiculous rookie season, and a change in GM’s that necessitates a “hurry up” mentality towards prospects. Pitlick might be in trouble.
Even if he puts up Philippe Cornet numbers in season three (I don’t think he will), the struggle becomes whether or not you’ve seen enough to keep him around. I believe. Most don’t. I’ve talked myself into not believing.
The key for Pitlick moving forward will be health and momentum. He plays a solid game to start the season, runs that play downhill with both legs pumping, he might be a kid to watch. If Craig MacTavish’s comments become fully realized, Pitlick will have opportunities to be the best prospect he can be. Is he ready to assume that role? Maybe and I hope so.