Future Watch: Tyler Pitlick
20-year-old centre has had a strong start to his pro career with the OKC Barons
|Tyler Pitlick has recorded 4 goals and 3 assists in 19 games this season with the AHL's OKC Barons (Photo by Steven Christy).
It says something about a player's mindset when he's able to slot into another new lineup, conquer a rookie's challenges and take it all in stride as he accomplishes immediate success; as a pro, no less, at 20 years of age.
In 2009-10, he starred as a vigorous two-way centre, notching 11 goals and 19 points in 38 games with WCHA's Minnesota State Mankato.
A season later, he blossomed into something more with the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers, scoring 27 goals and 62 points in 56 regular-season contests.
Now, 19 games into his professional career with the Oklahoma City Barons, Pitlick continues his upward development path, potting four goals and seven points, along with a respectable -6 rating in his rookie campaign.
"It's been pretty good, I think," Pitlick said of his minor-big league transition. "It took me a little bit to soak it all in, feel good and start to think the game like a pro. I'm doing pretty good, starting to get more points; but that's only part of it, because I need to make sure I'm making smart plays in my own end and doing all the little things right."
"Overall, it's going really well and I'm excited to see where I'll end up and how I'm able to progress as a pro this year."
Three leagues in as many seasons can certainly test a player's mettle, but it also may have helped propel the youngster's skill to even more impressive level. Learning new systems, playing alongside other, equally as driven talent and honing the game's nuances in each has been the best preparation of all.
When Pitlick arrived in Medicine Hat, he noted the league's devoted physical approach as being more than a simple subtlety. It's a good thing, too, because the NHL's rough-and-tumble calling card is distantly removed from the college (and WHL) atmosphere.
"College was pretty physical, but I don't think it really compares to this level," Pitlick explained. "It was a step up for me last season in Medicine Hat, and I think I handled it well. It's been another step up here in OKC, but I think I've done well adapting to this, too.
"That's one area, but there are a lot of other things I've had to work on as well."
Surrounded by quality veterans and likeminded teammates, Pitlick has centered Ryan O'Marra (recalled to the Oilers on Nov. 29) and Hunter Tremblay this season. Tanner House has since replaced O'Marra in that role, but under a veteran's guidance and fellow rookie's push, he's been able to glide into the AHL with ease.
"Everyone's a little faster and a little stronger," said the 6'2", 195-pound pivot. "Everyone wants to make it to the next level, so everyone gives it everything they've got every single night. It's a really good league.
"You don't have as much time out there, either. You have to be quick with your decisions, because someone's always on you when you want to shoot or make a pass; and, really, that's something I had to learn to deal with last season in the WHL as well. It's tough, but you get better with more experience."
Seen as an integral block in the Oilers' rebuilding plans, Pitlick was selected 31st overall in 2010 as the orange and blue looked to get bigger, meaner and more skilled down the middle. He's already accomplished big things by turning pro so quick, in addition to strong pre-season showings in 2010 and 2011.
The precursor to that, of course, was September's Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC, where Pitlick notched a goal and a +1 rating in games vs. Calgary and Winnipeg.
"In my exit meeting [with Head Coach Tom Renney and the Oilers], they told me to come down here and not worry about anything else that's going on; play my best and do as well as I can. I think they're pretty happy with me so far.
"I think that's had a big impact on my development," Pitlick added about the Oilers and Barons' coaches. "The support has been great, and the constant feedback about my game is even better."
Whether it's via the nurturing veteran presence of teammates like Bryan Helmer, the Barons' poetic captain, or through an understanding, welcoming approach by Head Coach Todd Nelson, Pitlick feels right at home (where the heart is) in Oklahoma City.
"That's huge," said the Centerville, Minnesota product. "If you're ever wondering how you're doing or if you want some pointers on the pro game, they're always there to help. Helmer's such a good locker room guy, and Todd is a great coach and an even better guy; he knows the game so well and he's really taken a lot of time with me, one-on-one to go over video and things like that.
"He's so approachable and he has such a grasp with on-ice tactics and system-play," Pitlick added about Nelson's coaching style. "It's not only helping me become a better player, but it's helping our team succeed as well."
And the results have vehemently backed that claim. The Barons have posted a dominant 15-5-0-1 record through 21 games, sitting atop the AHL's Western Division standings.
With the start they've had, soaring potential and a rookie's staunch determination in tow, there's no limit to Pitlick and the Barons' season-long quest.
"Once I better round out my game, the points will start to come more regularly. Ultimately my goal is to play well every night and get my game to where it needs to be so I can reach the next level.
"That's everyone's goal."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
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