Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Habs prospects playing at the Junior (OHL, QMJHL, WHL, BCHL, USHL) and collegiate (NCAA) level.
Rhett Pitlick is in a transition year. He played the past few years at the High School level, and considering his lack of size and strength, spending a season in the USHL before he embarks on his college career was a good decision. Not all prospects are Jayden Struble or Cole Caufield. Most need to take their first step in more higher-level junior before they can face the competition of the NCAA. Players who are sometimes 25 years old.
The University of Minnesota awaits Pitlick for 2020-21, and it’s likely he spends a few years there before joining the ranks of professional hockey. But before he gets there, he has to focus on the challenge ahead.
His team, the Omaha Lancer, are not a powerhouse of the USHL. In fact, of the 15 games they played this season, they only won five and they sit in the depth of the league’s standings right now. So that brings a bit of context to the season of Canadiens’ fifth-rounder Rhett Pitlick.
His 10 points in 15 games do not equal dominant performance, far from it, but considering he is tied for second in scoring on the team, it still represents a respectable total for the USHL rookie. Only Alexander Campbell, team leader in production, managed to break the point-per-game mark for the Lancer this season, and Campbell played in the BCHL (Junior A) last season. The step he had to climb this season was not as high as Pitlick’s.
Watching a few of the prospect’s game, his style of play has remained approximately the same with his skating as his most dominant tool; the one that dictates how he plays the game.
Pitlick still loves to rapidly move around the offensive zone, looking for outlets. Defenders can’t always follow his wide circles, but nevertheless catch him. So he forces some switches in the defensive coverage that can free teammates for his passes.
His elusiveness seems to have improved over the summer. His abrupt changes in direction along the wall can have defenders overshoot him in their pursuit and give him more space. The timing of his cutbacks could improve — he sometimes turns too early and into the defender — but it’s a tool that will serve him well to get away from the grip of the bigger defencemen of college hockey next year.
Pitlick’s speed also continues to stand out in the USHL.
He scored a beautiful breakaway goal earlier this season by sprinting out of the defensive zone and taking the puck wide in between the blue line. The defender he was pitted against made the mistake of following him to this wide lane, and in the seconds that followed, that defender saw Pitlick accelerate towards him, then past him, after sliding the puck under his stick and beating the goalie one-on-one.
Pitlicks speed comes from his heavy usage of crossovers. He can accelerate to his top gear in a short window and fly past defenders or catch-up to the play.
This acceleration or quickness also gives him value on the defensive side of the puck. The Omaha Lancer doesn’t seem to exclusively rely on veteran forwards to shutdown the opposition like most other junior teams. And Pitlick has found a niche on the penalty kill since his arrival with the team.
He has shown a good ability to read puck movements and identify the next play of the opponents when down a man and puts up the most pressure of any other player at the top of the defensive zone with his skating. As soon as the opposing point-men get their hand down, or stumble handling the puck, Pitlick jumps up to try and poke it loose.
Bonus, there is less danger of overextending for the prospect as he can easily recover to his position in a second or so. This style of heavy pressure, coupled with his recovery speed, should make him a plus defender over the full season, and even some offensive opportunities from turnovers.
As the Lancers aren’t the most offensively gifted team, standing well into the bottom half of the league in goals-per-game, Pitlick will have to continue being creative and play this high effort game to find scoring chances.
Relying on his feet will continue to be one of his key to success. He has shown already this season that his speed, explosiveness and agility, fueled by his high motor, can infuse chaos into the other team’s defensive zone structure. With continued work on his ability to manipulate the defence through his skating — mastering the art of the cutbacks — he could become a real threat for all USHL defenders.
CHL Weekly Stats
|Jacob LeGuerrier||2019||LD||OHL||Sault Ste Marie||3||0||1||1|
|Cole Fonstad||2018||LW||WHL||Everett Silvertips||4||2||4||6|
|Gianni Fairbrother||2019||LD||WHL||Everett Silvertips||4||0||1||1|
|Kieran Ruscheinski||2019||LD||BCHL||Salmon Arm Silverbacks||3||0||0||0|
CHL Season to date
|Jacob LeGuerrier||2019||LD||OHL||Sault Ste Marie||27||2||13||15|
|Cole Fonstad||2018||LW||WHL||Everett Silvertips||25||5||26||31|
|Gianni Fairbrother||2019||LD||WHL||Everett Silvertips||25||4||16||20|
|Kieran Ruscheinski||2019||LD||BCHL||Salmon Arm Silverbacks||30||0||3||3|
NCAA Weekly Stats
|Jack Gorniak||2018||LW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||2||0||1||1|
|Cole Caufield||2019||RW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||2||2||0||2|
|Jayden Struble||2019||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||2||1||1||2|
|Jordan Harris||2018||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||2||0||0||0|
NCAA Season to date
|Jack Gorniak||2018||LW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||14||1||1||2|
|Cole Caufield||2019||RW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||18||12||8||20|
|Jayden Struble||2019||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||14||2||3||5|
|Jordan Harris||2018||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||17||3||8||11|