Future Watch: Bryan Pitton
Thunder netminder looking to improve and make an impression as he continues through his pro career
Bryan Pitton utilizes his signature puck-handling ability during a game in Stockton, California.
Armed with poise that's not just imperative for stopping 20-40 shots on goal per night, but for earning his keep in an organization loaded with four NHL experienced-goaltenders, the 22-year old Stockton Thunder netminder has done nothing but tear up the ECHL in a calendar year with a refined set of attributes that rely on athleticism.
It all goes back to three separate trips he had in call-ups to the Edmonton Oilers last season and tutorials in net with Oilers goaltending coach Frederic Chabot.
“He made the game simple,” said the 6-foot-2 Pitton, who was first behind the Oilers bench to spell Jeff-Drouin Deslauriers in a game at San Jose on January 2. “Sometimes as goalies we tend to 'overthink,' and think of things that are not really significant. He made the game easier, encouraged me to stop thinking so much and use your body to make saves.”
“Basically, if you're in position, calm, not antsy and not thinking too much, the puck is going to hit you,” he continued. “Sometimes a good shot will come, picking the corners and you'll have to react. But he preached to be patient.”
Despite playing behind a combined pecking order that includes Nikolai Khabibulin, Devan Dubnyk, Martin Gerber and Jeff-Drouin Deslauriers in Edmonton and Oklahoma City, Pitton has fashioned the following accomplishments since his January sojourn to “The Show”:
He won three ECHL Goaltending of the Week awards, broke a Thunder playoff record with 49 saves (doing it in triple overtime and in the Conference Finals, a 1-0 win over Idaho), earned two more regular season shutouts, and rang up a combined shutout streak of 224:50 that stretched across two regular seasons.
At one point this season, his 3-0-0 record in four games, since a reassignment from Oklahoma City, was accompanied by a miniscule 0.95 goals-against-average and .962 save percentage. The latter two numbers led the ECHL by a landslide and it steered the Thunder to the best record in the Western Conference (7-1-3, 17 points) entering Wednesday.
In turn, he's grown into an icon amongst a passionate array of Thunder fans. He has dazzled them with every thrilling glove stop and calming kick save, safely deflecting pucks into the corners and assertively stopping an oncoming dump-in behind the net with his puck playing ability.
Pitton didn't watch much of Marty Turco or Martin Brodeur growing up to fuel his inspiration as a puck playing goaltender. Instead, it came on the summer streets of his home in Brampton, Ontario, growing up with teammate and brother, Jason, also under contract to Stockton.
Jason was two years older than Bryan. By commandment of age seniority, Jason was the shooter and Bryan tended the net. Case closed.
“I actually wanted to become a player,” said a grinning Pitton. “When I first started, I was a goalie and I was good, so I stuck with it. But when I played ball hockey in the summer time, the guys bugged me to get in net and I refused to do that. But Jason made me go in and that's how I became a goaltender.”
He continued, “I've always taken pride in handling the puck and working on that. I know my coaches and defensemen definitely appreciate it when I play the puck.”
Teammate Anthony Aiello, who skated in preseason training camp with Oklahoma City, wasn't hesitant to point out how Pitton's ability has helped the blueline.
“It's like having a third defenseman on breakouts,” said Aiello, in his second year on the Thunder blueline as a teammate of Pitton. “Bryan's improved a lot. He gets right to the puck on rims, has his head up and we've worked on our communication. He can make that first pass to a defenseman to bypass the forechecker and it's easier to move the puck up ice and get our offense going.”
Playing in his third year of an NHL contract, his status of “prospect” still has much luster after turning heads in an appearance at the YoungStars Tournament in September, where he shared the same locker room with current Oilers phenoms Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle.
Despite getting tagged with a 4-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks on September 15 in Penticton, it was a collection of breakaway and second chance rebound stops, among his 26 saves, that kept the Oilers in the game. He capped it with a breakaway, left pad save on speedy rookie Daniel Erlich with nine minutes left in the game.
“I remember watching (Bryan) from the seats and took note on how he really controlled the game from the goaltending position,” said Thunder head coach Matt Thomas. “It's a tough thing to do especially when you consider the talent he was facing, but good goalies manage to find a way to do it. He made some incredible saves too that really showcased how much more quick he's become, and his ability to steal games.”
What started as a job in the AHL to spell time for Gerber with the Barons, Pitton now gets his chance to steal his share of games again in the ECHL as part of the first place Thunder, who also helped Dubnyk graduate to the NHL level after honing his game in Northern California four years ago.
For every drive to the rink each morning, following a routine breakfast usually consisting of eggs, fruit and toast from a house he shares with Jason and other teammates, Pitton can dream of his number eventually being called – for good.
“The Oilers expect big things out of me this year and prove I'm able to play at the AHL level,” said Pitton. “They had a lot of positive things to say and I took it as when I do get that call-up, I'll be ready for it.”
Pitton doesn't sulk. He dreams.
2010-11 OILERS PROSPECT STATS
|19||21||3||1||4||-4||26||Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)|
|20||10||0||2||2||-1||0||Oklahoma city barons (AHL)|
|18||18||6||5||11||-1||22||kootenay ice (WHL)|
|29||17||6||11||17||-2||22||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|19||20||11||16||27||+18||6||saskatoon blades (whl)|
|20||17||5||3||8||-11||15||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|20||10||3||3||6||N/A||23||quinnipiac university (ecac)|
|21||16||1||4||5||-5||6||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|19||19||4||3||7||N/A||16||timra ik (sel)|
|23||9||1||1||2||E||4||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|18||22||14||18||32||+16||16||ottawa 67's (ohl)|
|31||17||7||8||15||+2||4||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|23||17||0||12||12||+9||21||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|23||17||10||9||19||+5||24||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|28||17||1||3||4||-4||14||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|18||20||1||3||4||-2||10||edmonton oil kings|
|19||16||5||9||14||-1||15||medicine hat tigets (whl)|
|19||16||5||4||9||N/A||2||ilves tampere (fnl)|
|24||17||9||7||16||+6||4||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|24||13||1||1||2||+1||26||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|23||16||4||1||5||-7||12||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|25||17||2||13||15||-7||21||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|22||5||0||0||0||N/A||22||Stockton thunder (echl)|
|21||8||0||3||3||N/A||32||merrimack college (h-east)|
|18||2||0||1||1||N/A||2||acadie-bathurst titan (qmjhl)|
|23||17||0||4||4||E||12||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|19||22||3||15||13||-11||20||regina pats (whl)|
|19||15||0||0||0||-8||24||chicago steel (ushl)|
|18||21||8||15||23||+2||31||prince george cougars (whl)|
|21||13||1||2||3||+3||14||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|28||15||0||4||4||+3||12||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|23||17||2||8||10||-11||8||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|21||17||1||2||3||E||41||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|18||12||6||5||1||0||2.83||.902||medicine hat tigers (whl)|
|36||13||9||4||0||0||2.56||.911||oklahoma city barons (ahl)|
|22||6||4||0||1||1||1.91||.922||stockton thunder (ECHL)|
|19||16||9||7||0||0||2.80||.913||acadie-bathurst titan (qmjhl)|