Fri May 28 04:30pm EDT
TORONTO -- As far as Tyler Pitlick's concerned, bring on the bus rides.Along with adjusting to the rigours of the NHL Scouting Combine, the top U.S. prospect is getting used to being the newest member of the Western Hockey League's Medicine Hat Tigers. Word spread late Thursday that the 18-year-old centre, who is NHL Central Scouting's 18th-ranked North American skater, would play for former Canadian world junior coach Willie Desjardins in The Hat after a single NCAA season at Minnesota State.
"It’ll prepare me better for the next level, that was a big reason why I signed," said Pitlick, who played fewer games (65) in his college season and final high school season than a WHL team plays in one regular season (72).
"It's a more professional style of play. Plus it would help working through the mental blocks you deal with in a long season, getting through those long bus rides ... that's the biggest thing of my game that I have to work on, getting my body going, getting my legs under me."
Pitlick, a nephew of former NHL defenceman Lance Pitlick, would shift to major junior, noted the timing was right ("School’s tough for me to balance with hockey. Hockey’s always been No. 1 for me and I wanted to put all my focus on hockey.") for the move north. In 38 games last season as an 18-year-old facing opponents in their early 20s, the 6-foot-2, 194-pound Pitlick put up a solid 11 goals and 19 points for a scoring-starved Minnesota State squad.
"It was a good time there, I met a lot of good people," the Centerville, Minn., native said. "I got a lot of opportunities, I got a pretty good shift. I thought I grew a lot as a player."
Medicine Hat finished fifth in the WHL's Eastern Conference last season, losing a six-game second-round series to eventual league champion Calgary. Pitlick is poised to team up with another top prospect, forward Emerson Etem, who put up 37 goals and 65 points as a newcomer.
"He would be a great fit for our organization," Etem said. "We have a lot of 19-year-olds leaving next year. He had a chance to visit Medicine Hat and I got to have dinner with him. He’s a great kid. We’re really excited to have him and so is Willie Desjardins and the entire Tigers organization.
"I don't know a lot about how he plays, but I'm sure we'll get along with fine, we both have the Minnesota ties," saidPitlick joked that his move north came up during his combine interviews.
"I had a couple geography questions. Someone asked me what province Medicine Hat was in (Alberta) and what province it was next to. I actually got that one confused, Saskatchewan with (the city) Saskatoon."
For what it's worth, among the NHL's top 20 scorers this season, seven are Canadian Hockey League grads (Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Brad Richards, Joe Thornton, Patrick Kane, Patrick Marleau and Corey Perry). Four (Martin St. Louis, Zach Parise, Dany Heatley and Paul Stastny) played in the NCAA.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.