There are very few media types that have seen Tyler Pitlick play hockey more than Western College Hockey Blog. WCHB is headquartered in Minnesota and is intimately familiar with Minnesota High School hockey - Pitlick went to Centennial High School just outside of Minneapolis - and the WCHA, home of the Minnesota State Mavericks, Pitlick's first choice to continue his career after Centennial. Pitlick decided that Minnesota State wasn't a fit and decided to go to Medicine Hat of the WHL, and beginning in September will be much more accessible to his brand new fans north of the border.
WCHB has a comprehensive collection of background stories on Pitlick, and if you've not checked out the site before, please do as there is a veritable wealth of information on a number of college and high school prospects from both the 2009 and 2010 drafts.
There's no better place to get a breakdown on Pitlick and WCHB was gracious enough to answer some pressing (in our minds) questions about the Oilers' 31st overall pick and ex-WCHA'er.
The Copper & Blue: Every scouting report that I've seen on Pitlick, including your own, talks about Pitlick as a complete package - size, speed, creativity, responsibility, positioning, physical play, good shot, penalty killing ability and leadership - how and why did he slide into the second round?
Western College Hockey Blog: I'm maybe the wrong person to ask, because if it was up to me, there's no way he would have lasted that long, especially when comparing him against some of the players taken later in the first round. As for why he did slip, I think some teams were concerned about his potential to develop into a high-end scorer, in part because of his numbers this year, but you have to remember the level of competition he was playing against compared to some of the kids drafted ahead of him. There's such a huge difference, and it's not like Pitlick wasn't putting up those numbers against high school competition either.
C&B: How is it that you've seen Pitlick fifty times?
WCHB: A combination of him playing high school hockey about 10 miles from my house, various High School all-star events/USA Hockey events, and then he played college hockey at my alma mater, so I saw 22 of his games live this past year.
C&B: In what ways would you consider Pitlick a physical player?
WCHB: I don't think he goes out of his way to be physical, but if the situation arises, he isn't afraid to throw a nice hit or take a hit. I heard from a scout early on last season that one of the things that impressed him the most about the way Pitlick played was that he didn't look out of place going up against guys three or four years older and much stronger.
C&B: Oilers' Head Scout Stu MacGregor compared Pitlick to David Backes at this stage of his career. Is that a fair comparison in your estimation?
WCHB: I suppose that is a natural comparison since they're by far the two most talented players ever at MSU. Pitlick is a much, much better skater than Backes was. Backes likes to make things happen with the physical side of the game a little more, and getting under people's skin. The other thing you have to mention when you talk about Backes is that he's probably one of the smartest, most mature people I've ever seen, and likely a future captain. I wouldn't put Pitlick in that category, which sounds like a knock on him, but I can't think of many people I'd compare to Backes in that category.
C&B: Pitlick led all WCHA rookies in shots on goal. Would you consider him a "shoot-first" player?
WCHB: I think he's a lot more comfortable creating offense for himself with his heavy snap shot than he is dishing the puck to teammates and creating offense for them. I thought passing the puck was an area he really improved on in his senior year of high school when he was pretty dominant over the competition, and I thought that maybe would have developed as he got more used to the speed of the college game. When people talk about him going to the WHL being good for his development, I think that's one of the areas it should help. He'll be playing weaker competition and will have a little more time and space to work on using his teammates more effectively.
C&B: Minnesota State coach Troy Juttig moved Tyler to the wing last season because of the responsibilities of the center position in Mankato's system. Do you think he would make a better winger or center at the professional level?
WCHB: I always liked him a little bit better at wing, because I think that when he's at his most effective offensively, he's streaking down the wing using his speed on the outside, and then is able to go wide around a defender using his size to protect the puck or cut up into the slot and fire a shot. I know he wants to play center, and he did well when he moved there later in the season, though sometimes I felt like he focused on the defensive side a little too much and it took away from his offense. At the pro level, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to start him out like MSU did on the wing where defensive responsibilities aren't quite as tricky, and then consider moving him to center as he develops.
C&B: Tyler has decided to leave Mankato and head to the WHL to play for the Medicine Hat Tigers. He said that he wasn't able to show his offensive game. Is this a concern for the WCHA or is Pitlick a special circumstance?
WCHB: Part of it maybe was that MSU wasn't very good last year. The other part is that it's definitely much tougher to score in college hockey. There are no 16 and 17 year old defensemen in college hockey. You've got a lot of great coaches that get a week to prepare a defensive set-up. The goaltending tends to be of a much higher caliber simply because there's no substitute for age and maturity when it comes to goalie development.
But is being in a league where it's tougher to score necessarily a bad thing for player development? I tend to think it's not. Like I said earlier, maybe against a little lesser competition, he'll get more opportunities to develop that side of his game, but he could have developed just as easily in college hockey too.
C&B: Do you think Pitlick would be better in the WHL or the AHL?
WCHB: That's a tough call. On draft day, I said I could see him ending up like Ryan O'Reilly last season, where, if he landed in the right situation, he could maybe play in the NHL right away. I only casually follow the NHL, but Edmonton would seem to fit that bill after how they struggled last year. If he did make the team, the AHL would have the advantage of Edmonton not having to make a decision at around the 10-game mark, but I could also see the Oilers wanting him to go to the WHL and work on his offensive game a little bit by scoring 100 points next year. So it's a decision that will probably have to wait until around training camp time.
C&B: Mankato Free Press columnist Shane Frederick wrote that Pitlick didn't "...like the college part of college hockey...", and I suggested that it was nothing more than sour grapes. Is this a spurned journalist taking a shot at a departing player and nothing more?
WCHB: You always have to tread lightly when you talk about student academic performance, but it was no huge secret that he struggled with the academic side of things. My understanding was that he could have come back to MSU next year, but he would have had to do a lot of work over the summer to be eligible for next season, and I don't think he was interested in that. At the end of the year, I thought he'd at least wait until after the draft and he got signed by the team that drafted to save some face, but word ended up getting out before that.
C&B: What would you say is Pitlick's biggest weakness?
WCHB: He played the left point on MSU's top powerplay unit last year, and I thought he definitely struggled at times. He couldn't shoot a one-timer to save his life, and then just some of the play-making and decision-making with the puck back there is an area he could improve on.
C&B: Outside of the Oilers' comparison to David Backes, various scouting reports have compared Pitlick to Chris Kunitz, Ryan Callahan, Brooks Laich, Mike Richards, Antoine Vermette and NHL Central Scouting compared him to Mark Parrish. How in the world have so many people arrived at markedly different player comparisons?
WCHB: I'm not sure. Most player comparisons tend to be lazy and not very good. I remember the Central Scouting ones being particularly bad. With Backes, Kunitz, and Parrish, I think people try to come up with another former college player that had some level of success in the NHL. Sort of like how for about ten years in the NFL, every white receiver was called the next Ed McCaffrey. The truth is, each player is unique.
Thanks for your time, it's much-appreciated.