Tyler Pitlick is in our spotlight now, but might he be falling into darkness? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Tyler Pitlick is good. That's obvious. Having made the move from the United States college ranks to the Western Hockey League, Pitlick has emerged as a well-rounded scoring star with the title-contending Medicine Hat Tigers. He was once criticized for shooting too often, but now he seems to shoot just the right amount. He's got good size, good feet, quick hands... there aren't many people who'll describe Pitlick negatively - the guy's gone out and gotten results. He's become a core player on a good team in a tough league, and he has no obvious warts beyond a few mental issues that experience will probably iron out. And we all remember Derek's famous pronouncement during the SB Nation mock entry draft: "Being able to select Pitlick with the 31st pick was a complete surprise and I don't expect that this option will be available to Steve Tambellini and Stu MacGregor." Fantastic. Order his jersey already.
Yet, this January, we find that Pitlick has somehow slipped a spot from his previous crack at the Top 25 Under 25. After debuting at #6, the Licker of Pits finds himself still strongly in the top ten but a less impressive seventh place with Martin Marincin right on his heels.
What happened? Is Pitlick backsliding? Are there causes for concern in this seemingly strong prospect after all? Is it just a predictable normalization after the initial euphoria of us actually selecting this kid, or might there actually be reason for a pessimistic look at Tyler Pitlick?
Nobody, it seems, feels quite the same way about Pitlick that they did right after draft day. Last time around, Derek ranked Pitlick fifth and Jonathan put him sixth, while Scott, Bruce, and I all clustered at the number nine position, but none of us have kept the same opinion this time around. I've been sufficiently impressed by Pitlick's WHL play to run up up to sixth, making me the ranking optimist thanks to Derek and Jonathan's slightly tempered expectations. Meanwhile, Scott barely kept Pitlick in his top ten and Bruce actually knocked Pitlick down to twelfth, with fellow 2010 draftee Curtis Hamilton one of those passing him by.
Why the revolution in opinion when Pitlick has been doing everything asked of him? 1.14 points per game in the WHL at age 19 isn't blowing the doors off by any means, but it's perfectly respectable: Jordan Eberle only managed 1.21 in his 19-year-old season, and Eberle had two years of WHL experience under his belt, whereas Pitlick is taking his first crack at the junior circuit. Moreover, Pitlick's history suggests that he's got the skill component down, and unlike the likes of Eberle, Pitlick has also cultivated a reputation as a two-way player. While he's by no means an elite shutdown forward - and in fact moved to the wing in high school to avoid playing centre against college players in their early twenties - he's better than the average 19-year-old offense-first WHL rookie.
Perhaps it's Pitlick's bad luck that he's playing for such a good team. Pitlick runs a mere third in scoring among the Tigers, well back of are-you-kidding-me 19-year-old Linden Vey (who?) and undrafted overager Wacey Hamilton. Pitlick's not in terrible company - he's four points ahead of first-rounder Emerson Etem, for one - but he's a long way from being the alpha dog. More shockingly, Pitlick is a mere +3 compared to Vey's +27, Etem's +25, and Hamilton's +10. Pitlick has the worst plus/minus among the team's regular skill forwards, an appalling statistic for a guy who we're told is responsible and has his head glued on straight.
Ultimately, I'm still defending Pitlick. His skill is obvious and there's nothing physically holding him back. It's hard to penalize him for playing with the strong Tigers, especially when he performed so well with a medicre Minnesota State-Mankato team last year. He's one of the few second-tier Oilers prospects in whom I do not doubt: there's no question in my mind that, barring injury or sudden motivational failure, Tyler Pitlick will be in the NHL someday.
It would set my mind at ease if he tore up the Western league a bit, though.