Photo by Candace Riley © 2011
At first, I thought regular commenter FastOil's suggestion in the comments of our November wallpaper was, well, crazy. When he suggested Ryan Kesler as a close comparable for Tyler Pitlick I blew it off as the rose-colored thinking of another Oilers fan with future bias. And then I took a second look. It turns out FastOil's suggestion isn't crazy, it's dead-on balls accurate.
The comparison isn't just about their similar height, weight, position, background and nationality - it goes well beyond that.
Central Scouting ranked Kesler 16th among North American skaters in 2003. They ranked Pitlick 18th in 2010. Frank Bonello was cool on Kesler, "He has decent size, a wide, strong skating stride, and a defensive conscience. Solid, not spectacular." E.J. McGuire was more upbeat on Pitlick's game, "Dominates faceoffs and in freshman year, is an excellent young prospect, a really good young skater and his ability to dominate a game at his level is truly impressive." Kesler was listed at 6'2" 195 lbs in 2003, Pitlick was listed at the same height and weight last year.
Kesler slid to Vancouver at 23, in part because the Oilers, selecting 22nd, chose Marc Pouliot instead. Pitlick slid to Edmonton at 31 in part because the Coyotes reached in the first round to select goaltender Mark Visentin. Both Brian Burke and Steve Tambellni felt fortunate to draft their men. Burke said of Kesler "Two teams, right after I took him, told me they had him rated in the top 10." In Tambellini's draft-day interview he said "We definitely had him the first round."
Both men played in the NCAA during their draft years - Kesler for Ohio State in the CCHA, Pitlick for Minnesota State in the WCHA. Both left the NCAA after their freshman year - Kesler went to the Manitoba Moose in the AHL, Pitlick to the Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL.
Both players are noted for their physical play. Burke, who tends to focus on the physical aspect of the game said on draft day in 2003, "The things we liked about Ryan Kesler were that he's got size, he's got excellent foot speed, he's a punishing player...To be a forward in our league, you need proper levels of hostility, belligerence and speed and he's got those things." Though not to the level of adulation Burke poured on Kesler's game, Pitlick received praise for his speed and aggression from both Red Line Report: "Accelerates briskly out of cross-overs and blows by defenders. Flashed the ability to power through defenders to get to net. High energy level every shift. Long-limbed with farmboy like strength. Aggressive and finishes checks." and Western College Hockey: "...he can use his speed and size on the outside to drive to the net and use his heavy snap shot. Despite being one of the youngest players in college hockey last year, he doesn't back down from anyone physically, and has the strength to dish out his own punishment."
And, as always, there are the numbers. When they were 18, they posted identical .32 NHL Equivalencies.
|Age 18||League||GP||G||A||P||NHL PPG||NHL82 G||NHL82 A||NHL82 P|
And though Pitlick is off to a slow start in Oklahoma City with 4 points in 13 games, he needs to finish with 9 goals and 20 assists to match Kesler's 19 year old season, split between Manitoba and Vancouver.
|Age 19||League||GP||G||A||P||NHL PPG||NHL82 G||NHL82 A||NHL82 P|
As he becomes more comfortable with the professional game, his offense should pick up, and 7 more goals and 18 more assists isn't an unreasonable expectation.
Pitlick tracks well against Kesler in nearly every aspect of the game: size, speed, position, skills, and stats. But even after researching and writing this article, I'm still astonished that the two are similar. I want him to become another Ryan Kesler just so the rest of the NHL can hate him. The Oilers have been looking for a big, physical right-handed center since Jordan Eberle was in second grade (no, really, that's when Jason Arnott was run out of Edmonton) and they might finally have one coming.