Not far down the laundry list of needs for the Edmonton Oilers, (just after defense and goaltending) lies the need of the team to play a heavy game. Along with the lack of heavy play, there has also been a shortage of toughness, of size, and at times a question mark of character.
One player that has often been suggested as a possible solution to this issue is 2010 second rounder, Tyler Pitlick. From his inaugural training camp the youngster established instant respect from not only his peers, but the seasoned vets on the team, for his most notable asset: the kid had a heavy game and was tough in the corners. Fast forward five seasons later, the Oilers are anxious to see the budding power forward bloom, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Instead Pitlick has been hit with a barrage of injuries, ranging from the standard ankle injury in his last year of junior with the Medicine Hat Tigers, to a ruptured spleen in one of a handful of games he played in last year with the Oilers. The steady stream of injuries begs an obvious question:is Pitlick injury prone, or,has he just had bad luck?
In fairness, Pitlick is not the first young Oiler forward to lose significant time to injury. Taylor Hall lost an average of 17 games in his first two seasons. Ryan Nugent Hopkins missed 18 games in his first season and eventually underwent shoulder surgery, while Jordan Eberle lost some time to a hand injury. But while these injuries were unfortunate, they should have been expected. Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle were playing top minutes in their teen years, ( or close to it) against big time NHL forwards, and suffered upper body injuries as a result.
Is He Just Too Fragile?
Pitlick’s situation has been different. His injuries have been all over the place. Reviewing his setbacks we have an ankle in 2010, a knee injury in 2013, and the spleen injury in the 2014 – 15 season. The spleen has to be considered a fluke. The knee and ankle injury? Two different injuries in areas where you would expect a hockey player to get injured. So is he really injury prone, or just needing to physically mature like a lot of young players? I would suggest more of the latter than the former and further suggest the 2015 – 16 season could be Pitlick’s time to shine.
This year’s Anton Lander?
Pitlick goes into this year with a lot of competition on the team. On the right side we have Eberle, Yakupov, and Purcell. New additions like Lauri Korpikoski give depth and there is no question the competition to fill any spot will be a challenge. Add to that Leon Draisiatl will push to make the squad and may try the wing to do it, so it will be tight for Pitlick. Nonetheless Pitlick has an intangible that no other player on the team has. He can physically punish in the corner and make a play. Hendricks tries his best but while listed at 6’0 200lbs., his real height is said to be closer to 5’10”. Pitlick is 6’2″ and could easily crack the 200lb. barrier this season. If he comes to camp and plays like a bull in a china shop,turns heads, and doesn’t get hurt, the Oilers would be crazy not to keep him with the big club.
Even better, if Pitlick and Draisaitl play lights out, start the season, and force Chiarelli to trade Purcell because he’s spending too many nights sitting in the pressbox drinking hot chocolates (because coffee is too strong for that guy), that would be ideal.
One option of gauging Pitlick’s potential long-term durability would be to look at his bloodlines and examine the pro-career of his uncle Lance who toiled for years as a journeyman defenseman in the NHL. Researching Lance’s career, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of reference to fragility. He didn’t play 80 games every season, but that may very well have to do with the fact that he wasn’t an impact player and couldn’t make the roster every night. So if we can make a historical reference, the junior Pitlick may follow a similar path with respect to durability, once he matures.
At any rate, Pitlick should be given every opportunity to prove his worth to the team this fall, and the Oiler’s need him to. There’s no question that the Oilers have oodles of offence in the top six, but you don’t win in today’s western conference without defense, goaltending, and a heavy game. And with respect to a heavy game, the Oilers are at a huge deficit. If Pitlick can go into camp and stay healthy, and continue to do what he does best, the Oilers will take a big step in correcting that deficit, and quite possibly salvage another high draft pick while they’re at it.