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Catching The Torch: Rhett Pitlick is a point-per-game player with Muskegon

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Pitlick’s speed is translating to offence, while several prospects are dealing with long-term injuries.

NHL: JUN 26 Canadiens Development Camp Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Montreal Canadiens prospects playing at the Junior (OHL, QMJHL, WHL, BCHL, USHL) and collegiate (NCAA) level.

In his time with the Omaha Lancers, Rhett Pitlick didn’t produce up to his potential. The Habs prospect was mostly stuck picking up a point every other game, often off broken plays where he darted to loose pucks, getting there before everyone else to create a scoring chance.

With the Muskegon Lumberjacks, he still generates offence mostly with the use of his very quick feet — his main attribute — but with the talent around him, the puck now remains longer in possession of his team, which allows for better plays to develop.

Daniil Guschin, especially, feeds off Pitlick qualities. The 2020 draft-eligible forward is a talented distributor and shooter. The disrupting presence of the Habs prospect attracts the attention of the defence, in turn creating space and scoring chances for Guschin.

Pitlick’s style of play is akin to a buzzing bee that just won’t go away no matter how much you twist and turn to escape it. He annoys opponents to no end when they have the puck, hunting it, attempting stick lifts, and shoving them off possession. When he does get the puck back in the offensive zone, he continues to roam around, moving his feet to force the defence to scramble to contain him.

Follow #9 of the Lumberjacks (white uniforms) in the sequence below.

He creates the zone entry by sending the puck past defenders and catching it in more open space. He then starts a cycle, dancing in between checks, alternating between sliding the puck over to teammates and taking it back from opponents. He finished his shift by creating two great scoring chances for teammates, the first one by freezing the defence and the second one by finding Guschin alone in front of the goalie.

Pitlick’s playmaking touch also shines in the clips below. He finds teammates in multiple different fashions: with a behind-the-back pass, by quickly skating along the back-wall, or, his trademark, by spinning around the offensive zone until defenders become dizzy and unable to stop a feed to a teammate ready for a one-timer across the ice.

On top of the dominant quickness that allows him to continuously move in the offensive zone, Pitlick also out-races the majority of opponents at his level in a straight line.

In this three-on-three overtime, Pitlick has just finished a rush to the offensive zone, but he still backchecks hard to recover his defensive position. He relentlessly pressures the puck-carrier, steals possession, and flies the other way. A first crossover propels him past the opponent he just pick-pocketed, and a second one pushes him ahead of the only remaining opponent on an interception course.

He gets a breakaway that the goalie stops. Unfortunately, as is often the case in overtime, the missed play transforms itself into a great scoring chance and a goal for the opposition. That said, it doesn’t take away from Pitlick’s great solo effort.

Speed also translates to an effective rushing game for the prospect, and not just because of the breakaway potential that it gives him. The winger can accelerate to force defenders back. It gives him a chance to enter the offensive zone cleanly and cut to the middle of the ice to either release from the slot or attract the defence to him, creating space and passing lanes to teammates.

There are also some deceptive elements at play in his rushing game. He misdirects defenders facing him in between blue lines by sometimes crossing over toward one direction, before cutting back to the other. It can make opponents hesitate long enough to create a skating lane for the winger to explode past them.

The Habs prospect has been putting up consistent numbers since joining the Lumberjacks. He is up to 14 points in 13 games, good for second place on his team. His new-found consistent production bodes better for his projected offensive impact in the NCAA next season.

There is a good chance that he will be able to continue using his skating to break up college defences by quickly transforming back-pressure into offence. Even if he doesn’t, the winger’s high motor will continue to endear him to his new coaches at the University of Minnessota, and guarantee him ice time as he looks to adapt to the challenge of the league.

The next step in Pitlick’s offensive development is probably to channel his speed and quickness in even more effective ways, specifically using it to break into the slot more often. In the offensive zone, instead of skating circles on the periphery, Pitlick could create dangerous looks more consistently for teammates and himself by using his first three steps to immediately separate from defenders and attack seams to the middle of the ice. That will come as he learns to better recognize and manipulate the back-pressure of opponents.

If he adds this weapon to his game, Pitlick could immediately help carry Minnesota's offence and become a very dangerous college player in the next couple of years.

Injury updates

  • Samuel Houde had wrist surgery. He is out for the next eight weeks.
  • Gianni Fairbrother is likely out for the season. He is scheduled to undergo surgery for a lingering upper-body injury.
  • Kieran Ruscheinski has been out since early December with an undisclosed injury.

CHL Weekly performances

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard 2019 LW QMJHL Chicoutimi 2 0 1 1
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 3 1 2 3
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 3 0 2 2
Allan McShane 2018 C OHL Oshawa 2 0 1 1
Jacob LeGuerrier 2019 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 2 0 0 0
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Everett Silvertips 3 1 1 2
Gianni Fairbrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips Injured
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 4 0 1 1

CHL Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard 2019 LW QMJHL Chicoutimi 55 31 40 71
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 43 19 31 50
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 61 23 58 81
Allan McShane 2018 C OHL Oshawa 62 23 44 67
Jacob LeGuerrier 2019 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 60 6 25 31
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Everett Silvertips 60 15 59 74
Gianni Fairbrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips 37 5 20 25
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 36 0 6 6

NCAA/USHL Weekly performances

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 2 0 0 0
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 2 0 0 0
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 2 0 3 3
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern Injured
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 2 0 0 0
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon 2 1 1 2

NCAA Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 28 2 5 7
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 36 19 17 36
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 35 5 25 30
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 21 3 7 10
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 33 3 18 21
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon 45 17 25 42