Photo By Dan Hickling/Hickling Images
At every level of hockey from the NHL down to midget hockey, coaches and scouts all talk about players developing at their own speed. The phrase describes the highly unpredictable business of evaluating potential hockey talent, from a young age all the way to a professional career. Scouts this season don’t have to look much further to prove their point than the name that has led the USHL scoring for the majority of the season: Rem Pitlick.
Pitlick leads the league in both points (58) and goals (30) in just 39 games played. The Plymouth, MN native accounts for 23% of the total goals scored by Muskegon, and he has earned a goal or assist on 45% of the Lumberjacks total offense this season. Pitlick also leads the USHL in power play points (23), longest goal-scoring streak this season (eight games), longest point streak this season (10 games), in addition to scoring a 17-game home point streak and 11-game goal-scoring streak, both of which are still active. All of this production comes just one season after scoring 16 points last year in 45 games.
“There are a lot of things going well,” said Pitlick. “I’ve been playing with some good teammates with Collin Adams and Matej Paulovic. We have great chemistry and our coaches give us leeway to get creative and make plays. My goal wasn’t to lead the league. I just know if I play my game good things will happen. It’s all about working hard and letting the rest happen.”
That leeway has been beneficial for Muskegon’s offensive success. Last season Dallas Stars prospect Matej Paulovic would set up in the slot looking to utilize his notably hard shot. This year, with Pitlick added to the first line, the speed and creativity through the center has opened a new primary scoring target for the Lumberjacks, all while reaping the benefits of Collin Adams who currently is second in USHL rookie scoring. The three together have formed a dangerous scoring threat every time they step onto the ice.
Another aspect that has changed in Pitlick’s game has been the increased role on the power play and overall ice time, something he says he had to earn the hard way.
“Last year was definitely a down year,” said Pitlick. “Knowing that I was a smaller guy and a younger guy I knew that [the USHL] would be a challenge. The biggest thing for me was motivation. I know what kind of player I am and it gave me motivation.
“It’s something you have to keep working for. It was a big struggle for me. It was maybe my fourth game of the year and I was scratched for the first time in my life. It was upsetting and got to me, but it’s about growing up and it’s all about making yourself faster and quicker, and the results will come.”
Motivation has turned early season success into a potentially record-breaking season. The last player in USHL history to score 40 goals in a season was Chicago Blackhawks prospect Matheson Iacopelli (Muskegon Lumberjacks). With 17 games remaining in the season, Pitlick can reach the mark and join the likes of Iacopelli, Anaheim Ducks prospect Kevin Roy (Lincoln Stars) and former San Jose Sharks forward Daniil Tarasov (Indiana Ice) as the only players since 2002 to score 40 or more goals in a season. Should Pitlick reach the milestone, he would be the only player to do so while missing more than a week of USHL play due to international competition.
Not lost in all of the individual success is the overall team effort. Pitlick noted first and foremost he’d rather see more wins on the stat sheet than goals. Muskegon is currently in 8th place in the Eastern Conference with an 18-20-2-3 record. Pitlick still believes he can help Muskegon fight back into a playoff spot, something he personally has set as a goal.
Muskegon Lumberjacks general manager John Vanbiesbrouck noted that if anyone can lead the team to success, it’s Pitlick.
“He’s our MVP, not because he has the most points, but because he brings it every game,” said Vanbiesbrouck. He would go on to add observations as to why the forward has enjoyed so much success this year. “His confidence, and him having fun night in night out. He loves to play and is showing it.”
Confidence has become a large part of Pitlick’s game this year, whether it’s from Vanbiesbrouck, head coach Todd Krygier or the forward himself. After putting in extra time training with Jay Schroeder in the offseason for workouts, on-ice training and speed skating, Pitlick has the confidence to bury pucks and take over games when his name is called.
There is still a lot on the line for the second year NHL Draft eligible forward. Among reaching USHL milestones, Pitlick wants to continue to build his confidence prior to playing for the University of Minnesota and to leave a lasting impression on the locker room.
“Being a Minnesota kid you always watch the Gophers,” said Pitlick. “I’m going to make sure to have the biggest impact possible going into there.
“The biggest compliment I can get is being called genuine and being respected by teammates. I hope I’m remembered that way and want to make sure I treat everyone with respect.”
That is, respecting everyone except for opposing goaltenders.
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 14th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2015-16. A record 37 players were chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft and more than 375 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.