Tyler Pitlick is one of our favorites here at The Copper & Blue. Even before the 2010 draft, he was a player the authors here were focused on as someone to move up into the first round to select if he was available and the price was right. By a stroke of luck he fell to the Oilers with the 31st overall pick and Stu MacGregor jumped at the chance to select him. Before he even played a game in the WHL or set foot in training camp, we ranked him a lofty sixth in Edmonton's Top 25 Under 25. At the time, I wrote
If this were baseball and we were talking about a five-tool center, Pitlick would fit the bill. He's a good skater, he has an above-average shot, he's good in the circle, he's physical and he has hockey sense or presence. What's not to love? Well, he's not a high-end scorer and will never be mistaken for Taylor Hall. He's got work to do on his defensive game and needs to work on his play-making.
He impressed Edmonton fans in both Rookie Camp and Training Camp with an extremely physical game and heavy shot. The talk of Pitlick jumping straight to the AHL seemed well-founded as he wasn't out of place physically with the professional regulars. The Oilers, however, asked Pitlick to report to Medicine Hat to refine his game for a season. Despite a slow start, Pitlick has come alive. He's collected 23 points in 22 games, including 9 in his last 5. We had the opportunity to speak with Pitlick about the draft, Training Camp, the WHL and his short-term future. Pitlick comes across as an extremely relaxed, easy-going kid with a lot of subtle confidence in his answers and tone. He was extremely thoughtful in answering our questions.
Copper & Blue: How have you handled the transition to the WHL thus far?
Tyler Pitlick: It's been alright, I started off a little slow and just wasn't playing as good as I felt I could be, but I've been getting some points and I've been playing a lot better, especially the past couple of games. I've felt more like myself out there.
C&B: You left college (Minnesota State) for the WHL and left home as well. How has the transition been on a personal level and how are you finding the community?
Pitlick: I fit in pretty well around here. The guys are good - they're like pretty much every hockey team, they're good people, and have the same thing on their mind. They want to get better every day. I'm fitting in well, but the only hard thing is being so far away from home. My parents don't get to come to games any more and I don't ever get to see them, but it's not too big of a deal for me. It's different because I get to play hockey every single day and focus on getting better -- I like it.
C&B: You've got a number of solid offensive players in Medicine Hat right now, who are you playing with and are you playing center or wing?
Pitlick: Right now I'm on the wing with Wacey Hamilton and Hunter Shinkaruk.
C&B: Has it taken some time for you guys to come together?
Pitlick: We just started playing together over the past few games. Before that I was playing with Ryan Harrison for awhile. The lines changed quite a bit. But I think we've found something we like right now and I think coach will leave it like this for a little while.
C&B: Medicine Hat has a number of big talents - what do you think your team can accomplish this season?
Pitlick: I think we're getting better every day. We really need to stick to the systems here. We lost three games in a row and we were getting away from the system. We need to do what we know best and stick to the system to win games. It wasn't like we weren't working hard, we just weren't playing what we knew. Once we got back to that and played within the system, we won two big games and have played much better hockey. If we keep that up, we have a chance to win a lot of games and I we'll do everything we can to play as long as we can. I think we have a good shot at the WHL Championship.
C&B: One of the big transitions from the NCAA to the WHL is the amount of games. You play so many more games and play more often through the week. Was there a physical adjustment, or are your legs still fresh enough that you just get out there and skate?
Pitlick: At first it was a little tough on me. I'm getting better now as my legs are used to playing three or four games a week instead of just two on the weekend. Your body doesn't get as much time to recover for your next game, but I'm starting to really like this. I like playing games more than I like practicing five times a week and I like having three games in a row - it's fun.
C&B: You were kind of buried, as far as playing time goes, at Minnesota State, but what kind of lessons did you take from your time in the NCAA and are you applying them to your play in the WHL right now?
Pitlick: I felt I got much better as a player last year just by playing against older, bigger guys. I had to really learn the game. In high school, you can do a bunch of fancy moves and get away with it, but in the NCAA you have to use your body, be physical and work hard to make plays. You can't beat everybody one-on-one and get your shot off. I learned to make my game simpler. I think the the two games, the NCAA and the WHL are pretty similar, the only difference is the amount of games you play here.
C&B: You're playing with another Edmonton prospect, Tyler Bunz, and you were in camp in Edmonton together. Were you able to get to know him in camp?
Pitlick: I actually roomed with him for the Rookie Camp and it was great to get to know him before I came to Medicine Hat. Knowing him before hand helped the transition. It's nice to have someone else from the same organization around and talk things through with him.
C&B: Long term are you going to move back to center? Are you on the wing while you get acquainted with the style of play in the WHL and at Medicine Hat or are they looking at you as a scoring winger?
Pitlick: I like wing now. I get to focus more on offense and I think I'll be playing wing for the rest of the year. I want to play on the top two lines and we've already got two good centers there. I can play either or, and I want to play with the top guys and thus far it's working out.
C&B: Are you on the right side or the left side?
Pitlick: The right.
C&B: Oiler fans got a look at you in Rookie Camp and Training Camp and between the two, nearly everyone liked what they saw from you. When you were in prospects camp, you caught everyone's eye with your physical play. How much of your game is based on being a physical player?
Pitlick: When I'm playing my best hockey is when I'm being physical. I got away from that a little bit when I first got to Medicine Hat. I thought I'd be able to play more of a skill game, I mean, I'm a skilled player, but my game is being physical and getting to the puck in the corners, using my body to protect the puck and get away from players. Now that I'm doing that again, I'm starting to feel a lot better about my game. I'm controlling the puck more now and passing well to my teammates. I get myself into the game once I am physical on the ice, and it's something I need to do to get into it. It's definitely my game to be a physical player.
C&B: When regular camp started, you were still able to play a strong game offensively, but every once in awhile it looked like you were swimming in the defensive zone. How much of that was due to the increase in the speed of the game once the NHL regulars arrived?
Pitlick: It's definitely faster. They move the puck so quickly. Every little play is faster -- the passing is faster, the players are faster. Everyone makes quick plays and it makes the game move a lot faster.
C&B: One of our favorite prospects is Teemu Hartikainen, we've talked with him a number of times here. You roomed with him in Rookie Camp and he joked that you didn't really like his music.
Pitlick: Teemu's a good player. At first when I was rooming with him, I was a little skeptical because I walked in and didn't think he would know English, being from Finland. But he knows it really well. He's actually a really good guy and I enjoyed the time I spent with him. All of those guys are great guys - I spent time with Teemu and Magnus Paajarvi and had a great time hanging out with those guys. We talked about Finland and Sweden and learned about each other.
C&B: One quote that came out of your post-draft interviews you said something like "I will be in the NHL next year." Most Oiler fans took that as the perfect attitude for a draft pick, that you believed that you could be in the NHL next year. Was that you saying the right things, or did you mean it? Is it a realistic goal to be in the league next year?
Pitlick: I think so. I wasn't just talking. My plan from then was to come to Medicine Hat, have a good year, and I started off a bit slow, but I think now that I'm playing better things are going to start rolling. There is a lot of time left to score some points and play well. I'm going to have a big summer, come back into camp do everything I possibly can to make the team. I had a really good camp this year and I think anything can happen. If the team didn't want me to come here to work on my offensive game, I felt I could have played in the A [AHL] this year. But this is what the team wants me to do, and I'm going to do everything I can to get better and have a great camp next year.
C&B: You were one of the players that the writers here at The Copper & Blue were really excited about for the 31st pick. We actually ranked you higher than that, but when the first day ended, and you were still out there, we thought the 31st pick was a no-brainer. Had the Oilers talked to you before the draft about bringing you in?
Pitlick: I really had no idea. When I got the chance to talk to them, they didn't think I was going to be avialable at 31. They knew they didn't have any picks late in the first round, so they didn't expect to get me. But they said once I was available, they had a pretty good idea right away of who they were going to pick. That was cool to hear - that they were set on me as soon as they knew I was available.
C&B: You were ranked anywhere from the teens to the low 20s by some scouting organizations, so as an Oilers fan, and please don't take this the wrong way, I was happy every time your name wasn't called as the first round ended. Was it a disappointment to fall to 31?
Pitlick: Yeah. The hardest part sitting there all day Friday, just waiting and hoping to get picked. Afterwards, I was a little bummed out, but I talked to my dad after the first round and he told me I'd get picked early tomorrow and even if I wasn't it didn't matter. It doesn't matter where you get drafted, all that matters is making it to the NHL and playing as long as you can. That's what I focused on. Now I'm going to just try and prove people wrong and make them wish they would have drafted me.
C&B: Thank you very much for taking the time, Tyler, we really appreciate it.
Pitlick: No problem, thank you as well.