Tyler Pitlick left Minnesota State-Mankato in the summer of 2010 and joined the Medicine Hat Tigers. Pitlick was supposed to settle into the WHL, score some goals, work on his play-making and tune up his offensive game. He would use a season of offensive dominance in a league full of weaker competition to springboard into the AHL and a regular spot in the Barons' lineup.
Sometimes the plan never comes together. Pitlick's transition to the WHL wasn't as smooth as hoped - he struggled with the number of games per week and had some tired legs early in the season. He was suspended for three games after kneeing Prince Albert defenseman Nathan Deck in late October. Just when he put everything together, Pitlick broke his ankle in early March, causing him to miss the end of the season and the WHL playoffs. The ankle continues to bother Pitlick - it's prevented him from skating regularly and forced him to sit through the majority of development camp. Being a top prospect involves talent, hard work, skill, determination, and a whole lot of luck, something Pitlick didn't have in 2010-11.
After spending a year as a top ten fixture in these rankings, it's easy to see why Pitlick fell six spots to 13th overall. A tough year would concern even the biggest optimist -- Jonathan buried Pitlick in 18th after ranking him 6th and 8th in the previous two installments. I remain optimistic. I've always rated Pitlick the highest amongst the group (5-7-8), though Jaysen is close behind. Ben asked for more from Pitlick and he wasn't able to deliver
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.
It would set my mind at ease if he tore up the Western league a bit, though.
He didn't tear up the Western League. His NHLE of 11-15-26 lags behind fellow second-round draftees Anton Lander and Curtis Hamilton. But Pitlick scored more G/G compared to Hamilton which is a positive, and it's likely that Pitlick would've made up the gap in assists had he played for Hamilton's Saskatoon Blades, the highest scoring team in the WHL. Pitlick was the 3rd leading scorer by P/G for the Tigers, behind Linden Vey and Anaheim first-round pick Emerson Etem. However, it's still not the explosion many fans were looking for. Ben talked about the concern in Pitlick's +/-; Vey ended the season as a +37 and Etem a +41. Pitlick ended the year as a +4, behind draft-eligible agitator Kale Kessy.
Why do I remain optimistic? Even though his offense was a disappointment, he's still scoring goals at a similar pace to Lander, Hamilton and Martindale. Better team offense from Medicine Hat probably pushes Pitlick's NHLE above 30, similar to Hamilton. He played the season at right wing, a new position for him. His transition wasn't easy - he was playing a new position with a new team in a a new league and still scored goals. He's a big kid, and his physical play wowed Oilers' fans who watched the Penticton rookie tournament last summer. He's got a heavy shot and a quick release. He's also a right-handed center. Though he hasn't played center since high school, he's got a short path ti the Oilers roster if he can move back to pivot. In short, all of the underlying tools and talent remain in spite of two tough transitional seasons.
Lastly, his ankle injury might be a blessing in disguise. Though the Oilers signed him to an entry-level contract, his inability to skate for five months makes it less likely that he'll join the Barons in October. Another season in the WHL, especially at center might just be that "Jordan Eberle" season he needs to break into the professional game.