Tyler Pitlick is something of a puzzle to many Oilers' fans. He's U.S.-born, and he spent his formative years in the Minnesota high school hockey system and at Minnesota State Mankato in the WCHA. When the authors here had the chance to make the 31st overall selection in the the SB Nation mock draft, we were nearly unanimous in selecting Pitlick because of the wide array of tools in Pitlick's game. I believe that Pitlick fell in the draft - even though the scouting reports didn't change - because he didn't post flashy numbers at Minnesota State.
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.
Pitlick left Minnesota State after the 2009-10 season and has landed in Medicine Hat of the WHL for the 2010-2011 season to work on developing his game. There's a very good chance that he will work on a line with Ducks' draft choice Emerson Etem. Whether Pitlick will be at center or on Etem's opposite wing is yet to be seen, but if ever there was a situation in which Pitlick could explode offensively, the first line in Medicine Hat is it.
Pitlick's career is at a mini-crossroads. Is he a scoring forward, or is he going to be a physical presence in all zones and more of a second or third minutes player? Should Pitlick break out in the WHL and post 70 points he will be regarded as one of the steals of the 2010 draft, and Stu MacGregor will look like more of a genius. If Pitlick moves to the WHL and is only able to score 50 points, but continues to develop his overall game, he'll continue that second minutes career arc.
The biggest gap in the rankings in our list is between player five and Pitlick, which means that, collectively, we feel there is clear separation in the list between the top five players and the rest of the prospects in the organization. Ranking Pitlick at the top of "the rest" is significant, especially because he comes from the 2010 draft class. He's young, but he's already played against grown men in the NCAA and acquitted himself well. Pitlick's NHLE82 last year while at Minnesota State projects to only 10 goals and 7 assists, but Pitlick made the jump to the NCAA at eighteen, without any USHL time, something that is rare in the NCAA. Riley Sheahan, the Red Wings top pick at 21st overall, made the same jump at Notre Dame and posted similar numbers. Sheahan and Pitlick are similar players, and in fact, there's a good chance that Pitlick may be an even better skater and scorer.
The Oilers compared Pitlick to David Backes on draft day and various scouting reports have compared him to Chris Kunitz, Ryan Callahan, Brooks Laich, Mike Richards, and Antoine Vermette. NHL Central Scouting compared him to Mark Parrish. When I talked to Chris Dilks about the Backes comparison, he said that they aren't the same kind of player, they just came from the same school:
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.
While Pitlick was a center in high school, he was switched to the wing to begin his NCAA career because of the defensive responsibilities inherent to playing 23 and 24 year-olds. I asked Chris about Pitlick's play on the wing versus at center:
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.
For more on Tyler Pitlick, visit Western College Hockey Blog's Tyler Pitlick library.