Canadiens Still Need Rem Pitlick Even if Just for Depth

It’s practically a miracle Montreal Canadiens forward Rem Pitlick avoided injury against the Colorado Avalanche on March 13. Going head first into the boards against the Avs, Pitlick seemed destined for the injured list, even if only because just about everyone else on the team has made an appearance.

Rem Pitlick Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens forward Rem Pitlick – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That’s not even an exaggeration, with only one skater, Nick Suzuki, having appeared in all of the team’s games this season (heading into Thursday night action). For his part, Pitlick has played 36 games so far. He started the season with the Canadiens, but was a frequent healthy scratch, getting waived and sent down in early November, 12 games into the schedule, of which he played just seven (going scoreless).

Pitlick Stands Out as Depth Option

The fact he’s since gotten in as much action as he has is of course a testament to the Canadiens’ incredible amount of injuries, as they get set to match if not surpass the man-games lost record they set in 2021-22. However, there’s an argument it’s at least slightly to do with a degree of reliability they feel in him as a depth option. After all, of all the Canadiens to have made appearances with the Laval Rocket in the American Hockey League this season, Pitlick has played the most games with the Habs.

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Granted, Pitlick’s numbers leave something to be desired. However, after he pleasantly surprised last season as a waiver-wire pick-up with 26 points in 46 games as a Hab, the regression we’re seeing now was always part of the plan. With just 11 points this season, Pitlick is hardly producing in the same vein as the hypothetical top-six forward some optimists may have thought the Canadiens had on their hands during his hugely successful 2021-22 rookie season, when it was anything but anticipated as such.

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Of course, Pitlick’s regression was to be expected, at the very least based on the team’s increased depth up front this season. For some perspective, Pitlick got 17:17 per game last season. He’s at 12:34 in 2022-23, and that’s taking into account the increased ice time he’s received since the start of the calendar year, at times getting looks with Suzuki on the top line. Granted, most of the breaks he’s getting right now are due to the injury situation, but he’s making the most of it relatively speaking, with 10 points in his last 21 games, which is much more in line with the production he put up as a rookie.

Rem Pitlick Montreal Canadiens
Rem Pitlick – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With three points in his last four games, Pitlick is further showing he can contribute consistently. The one game of the four in which he didn’t score a point was against the Avalanche, when he played just 5:08 before leaving the game. Thankfully, he was healthy to play against the Pittsburgh Penguins the next night, helping to get the Canadiens going with a beautiful drop pass that led to Mike Hoffman scoring. The goal got the Canadiens on the board and kickstarted the comeback after they fell behind 2-0 early in the first.

The Habs eventually won 6-4, bringing an end to a seven-game losing streak. Had it not been for Pitlick, it’s very realistic to believe the Canadiens would have lost an eighth in a row… even if, tongue in cheek, that’s probably what most fans had secretly hoped for at this point. With the Canadiens so far out of a playoff spot, jockeying for position in the standings for a better chance at a high pick at the 2023 NHL Entry Draft is arguably what’s best for the team’s long-term prospects.

Pitlick vs. Byron

However, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that Pitlick can just as easily be in the team’s long-term plans, too. He may not qualify as a prospect anymore at 26, but he’s far from a career minor-leaguer, having played the vast majority of his games as a professional in the NHL, and justifiably so.

Pitlick has far from played his way into general manager Kent Hughes’ long-term plans, to be clear. After all, the latter had not yet been hired when the Canadiens claimed Pitlick off waivers from the Minnesota Wild. So, it’s not like Pitlick is what Paul Byron was to predecessor Marc Bergevin. There are undeniable parallels there, as both were waiver-wire pick-ups who went on to enjoy offensive success with the Canadiens. However, when Hughes re-signed Pitlick to the extension he did (two years, $2.2 million total), he signaled Pitlick’s ceiling as a depth forward in his mind. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Paul Byron Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens forward Paul Byron – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Byron eventually re-signed for a cap hit of $3.4 million. It obviously worked for him, but also against him as the new deal effectively guaranteed he’d fail to live up to heightened expectations, as he inevitably fell down the lineup, the contract only coming into effect after he turned 30. 

There’s little risk of that happening with Pitlick, even as he proves his worth as a bottom-six forward who can fill in on the top six in a pinch. Those are players teams need especially in times like these. And, seeing as Pitlick getting injured was probably one of the last things the Canadiens needed in the minds of fans just a few days ago, that kind of means they need him, or at least players like him, to a certain extent.

So, why not him?