The Dallas Stars are starting to see solid production from their depth forwards. One of their larger assets is quickly becoming Tyler Pitlick, one of the newest Stars on the roster. His play is not only promising, but very exciting to watch.
Rewind to June 30, 2017 really quickly and fill in this sentence: The first person that the Dallas Stars will sign on July 1 is….
Who was on your mind the day before the free agency market opened? Maybe another defenseman to tack onto the blue line? What about another center to add depth? And you probably entertained yourself with the rumors about Alexander Radulov and Justin Williams at least once or twice.
But there is an absolute certainty that forward Tyler Pitlick never crossed your mind. There’s probably a good chance that you had never even heard of Pitlick until Dallas announced him as their first signing of the 2017 offseason just minutes after the free agency market opened. And that’s perfectly okay.
After all, before signing with the Dallas Stars, Pitlick had only played 58 career games for the Edmonton Oilers. And even in that playing time, he was in a very minimized role. The Oilers drafted him with the first pick in the second round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. However, Pitlick did put up 11 goals and 14 points in those 58 games.
But then disaster struck. After skating in 31 games with Edmonton in the 2016-17 season and showing legitimate signs of promise, Pitlick tore his ACL on December 19, 2016. He missed the rest of the 2016-17 season and entered the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. That’s not the best place to be for a guy that just finished ACL rehab and hadn’t made a permanent stamp on the league.
“I was very excited going into it because I was looking for a new opportunity,” said Pitlick about his past summer. “But at the same time, I was very nervous because of tearing my ACL the year before and not knowing if there was going to be a ton of interest because of that. But when teams started calling, I got really excited.”
And one of the first teams that called? The Dallas Stars. After talking through a three-year contract with a $1 million AAV, the deal was finalized. But there’s something to be said about a guy that leaves a team that fell a few wins short of the Stanley Cup Final for a team that turned in their third worst year in franchise history in 2016-17.
“I was looking at it as a good opportunity for me to play more and in different situations,” said Pitlick. “That was exciting. Then, when we started seeing all of the other guys trickling in and signing like [Martin] Hanzal and [Alexander] Radulov and already with [Marc] Methot and [Ben] Bishop, it started getting really exciting and it looked like we were going to have a good group.”
The Stars started the summer of 2017 with a few different items on their to-do list, one of which was the need for help on the right wing. And while Pitlick wasn’t brought in to be the RW on the top line, he brought a lot of potential depth to the bottom six.
Pitlick entered training camp as one of the many question marks for the Stars. While he was a new signing and earned a decent-sized contract, no one was sure where he would fit. There was plenty of competition between a number of forwards for a limited number of spots on the roster.
But Pitlick not only proved himself to be worthy of a spot in the NHL, but also earned a starting spot for opening night.
Here we are 42 games later, and it’s clear that Pitlick may have been one of Nill’s most ingenious signings of the 2017 offseason. Pitlick has skated in 40 of the Stars’ 42 games this season, tallying seven goals and 15 points along with a +10 rating. That rating is the third best on the team and second highest among forwards. In other words, he’s on the ice for a lot more goals for than goals against.
He has already set a career high in points and is two scores away from setting a career high in the goal category. And don’t forget that the Stars are just barely over halfway into the season.
“I think I was heading in the right direction last year in Edmonton before I got hurt,” said Pitlick of reaching his full potential. “But I was kind of working with just 5-on-5 play with just nine or ten minutes a night.
“So coming here and playing a lot more and now getting the chance to play against the top lines of other teams and playing penalty kill, I feel like you have a little more of a role with the team and are a big part of the team. It gives you that confidence to play well when doing those things.”
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Pitlick isn’t only succeeding at even strength, either. He’s become a valuable member of the penalty kill. It is a new role for him, but he has embraced it entirely over the first half of the 2017-18 season.
“I love it,” said Pitlick about his new role. “When we get a guy sent to the box, we’re ready to go. It’s a sense of pride trying to shut them down and not let them score and trying to get our buddy that’s in the box.”
In his time with Edmonton, the 26-year-old averaged a measly 10:30 on the ice per game. This year, he is hitting new marks with 12:45 per game. But even that isn’t a lot to work with. Luckily, Pitlick has been given a larger role over the past few games and his numbers are slowly creeping up. In 13 of the past 17 games, he has skated above 14:00 per game. In his last four starts, he’s skated above 15:30 per game.
So why is Pitlick getting more minutes and extra time on the penalty kill and even strength? Well, because he’s working hard and proving himself as one of the Stars’ most reliable depth forwards.
Not to mention that he, Antoine Roussel, and Radek Faksa have created one of the Stars’ most consistent lines this season. Even when Ken Hitchcock juggles the forwards around, these three always end up on the third line together. Pitlick has plenty of good things to say about his line mates, too.
“[Radek] Faksa is a smart player and is really good in our own zone, so we don’t spend a lot of time there,” said Pitlick of his 23-year-old counterpart. “[Antoine] Roussel is similar because he’s fast, he’s physical, and he hounds the puck in the offensive zone.
“So even if we make a chip play or we give it away in the offensive zone, we’ve got guys flying over there and trying to get it back and we cause a lot of turnovers because of that. I think we’re all very similar but at the same time a little bit different too. We all bring a little bit something different but we bring a lot of the same things too and it seems to work.”
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As a unit, they play heavy minutes and are called on by Ken Hitchcock in multiple situations.
“I don’t think you can be a good third line in the league unless you can score,” said Hitchcock. “You have to be able to chip in and score. They already play with a conscience, which is really good. They’ve got skill and they have the ability to make plays, especially off the rush. They’re playing with a little bit of flare now, so that’s a good sign.”
“They’ve obviously done a great job all year,” said Stars goaltender Ben Bishop. They’ve done a really good job lately in shutting down the top lines. They have had some big responsibilities lately. It’s fun to see those guys get rewarded.”
The third line has arguably become the most consistent line for Dallas this season, with all three forwards bringing something different to the table. Their qualities mesh together well, and it gives Hitchcock another option to put up against the opposition’s best skaters.
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All in all, Pitlick has brought a lot of solid qualities to the Dallas Stars. On offense, he is strong with the puck, makes quick decisions, and can keep a rush alive with his speed and playmaking abilities. On defense and the penalty kill, he gets in the shooting lanes, blocks shots, and hounds the puck carrier to force turnovers.
He’s an energetic add to the Stars and gives them another tremendous option when the top six aren’t getting it done. He’s chippy and brings plenty of grit to the ice on a nightly basis.
It seems as though the signing on July 1 was a win-win situation. The Stars received an important depth player that brings plenty of emotion to each game and can create a spark quickly. He gels well in the bottom-six and can be used in a variety of situations, making him a bargain for Dallas.
And Pitlick? Well, he got a second chance and is making the most of it. The Minnesota native is enjoying adapting to the Texas lifestyle with his family.
“We love it,” said Pitlick about living in Dallas. “It’s been a little cold the past few days, but it’s nothing compared to Edmonton or Minnesota, so that’s obviously a plus. And there’s just so much to do, with so many restaurants and shopping and all that stuff. It’s good for the family and the kids, so it’s been great for us.”
Not to mention that it’s typically an easier transition when a player comes from a traditional hockey market setting to a non-traditional one.
“I guess it’s a little more laid back here,” Pitlick said. “It’s not quite as crazy with the media and the Twitter and the fans getting really angry or really happy or one or the other. So that’s a little bit different, but they [Stars fans] are into the game. I think we sell out most games and there’s certainly a good crowd and they get into the game, so in that sense it’s very similar to Edmonton. The building gets loud and we have a good home record. I think a big part in that is due to the fans.”
On July 1, Tyler Pitlick didn’t know if he would be getting any calls to play professional hockey. After fighting hard and spending several months rehabbing a torn ACL, he had every right to be nervous.
But Jim Nill saw potential in no. 18 that had not been opened yet at the NHL level, and he couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Now that the season is halfway gone, it’s clear that the signing was indeed a great one.
Pitlick continues to impress and win over the respect of both Stars fans and the NHL. In his first “full” season as a pro at the NHL level, he’s bot backing down from any challenge and is taking his new opportunity head on. Not bad for a guy who tore his ACL one year ago.