Nearing the midpoint of this American Hockey League season, Oklahoma City Barons forward Tyler Pitlick wasn't quite sure where he fit in.
Other than sitting out some games early as the Barons rotated a large number of forwards through the lineup, Pitlick had been in the rotation for the most part but didn't quite feel comfortable.
“It took me awhile to get a feel for everything, getting the feel for another new city, playing on my fourth team in four years,” Pitlick said. “I was just getting the feel for all the guys and just everything about playing here and playing in this league.
“But once you get comfortable, you go from there.”
Pitlick found his comfort level and played a critical role down the stretch and through the Barons' first two series in the playoffs.
The Barons open the Western Conference Finals at 7 p.m. Thursday against Toronto at the Cox Center.
Coming out of high school in the Minneapolis suburb of Centerville, Minn., Pitlick played one season at Minnesota State-Mankato, where he had 19 points and 11 goals in 38 games.
But his heart wasn't in playing at the college level.
“I sort of wanted to go play junior right out of the gate, but my parents wanted me to give college a shot and so did my agent,” Pitlick said. “He thought it'd be a good idea and it definitely was. I don't regret going to college one bit. I had an unbelievable experience and met a lot of great people — but I just wanted to go play junior and focus all on hockey and take the school factor out of it.
“I knew that's what I wanted to do, so I figured I might as well give it everything and go for it.”
So Pitlick played for the Western Hockey League's Medicine Hat Tigers last year, a season after being drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the second round.
After a solid season in one of hockey's top-tier junior leagues, the Oilers assigned him to Oklahoma City.
Barons coach Todd Nelson said the speed bumps Pitlick experienced early were expected.
“Every young player goes through an adjustment period, on the ice and off the ice,” Nelson said. “You're living with a roommate now and cooking for yourself and going to the dry cleaners and doing everything else one your own.
“There's an adjustment period and we understand that.”
Nelson saw it last year with Philippe Cornet, who had the exact same regular-season scoring stats (16 assists, 23 points) last year that Pitlick has produced this season.
“He was in the same situation and all of the sudden, he (Cornet) caught fire around February or March,” Nelson said. “Tyler's a lot better hockey player right now than he was at the start of the year.”
Pitlick knows the adjustment period he experienced this year in OKC can't be repeated when and if the call comes from Edmonton.
“I have to take advantage of the moment and go for it right away, otherwise I'll be sent down,” he said. “There's no time for transition, so I need to be ready to jump in and take advantage right away.”
For now, Pitlick is trying to take advantage of the Barons' deep playoff run while also enjoying it as much as possible.
“We all get along so well,” Pitlick said. “It's just awesome being with these guys and being such a close team with a great group of guys and learning from the other guys, learning what it takes to win.
“I think everyone who plays here loves it. It's just a great city and I just really like waking up every morning and walking to the rink. We have a lot of fun, even when we're working.”