It wasn’t particularly difficult to get some of Tampa Bay Lightning forward Tom Pyatt’s more prominent teammates to talk about just how important he was to their team last season.
"I think he’s a workhorse," Martin St. Louis told ECHL.com. "He kills a lot of penalties, and he plays hard. He probably doesn’t get the recognition that a lot of guys do, but he’s done his job."
Added Steven Stamkos: "He’s solid at both ends of the rink and he’s good on the penalty kill and he’s good on faceoffs. He works hard, that’s all you can ask."
In the midst of a standout junior career with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, Pyatt was selected in the fourth round of the 2005 NHL Draft by the New York Rangers, for whom his older brother Taylor is current under contract.
"There’s a lot going on in your mind; you don’t know where you’re going to end up or how late or early you’re going to go. I was happy when I got drafted by the Rangers, just being picked was nice."
After playing in one game for the Hartford Wolf Pack after his junior career had ended in 2006-07, Pyatt found himself splitting the following season between the Rangers’ AHL affiliate and the-then ECHL Charlotte Checkers. In his first full pro season, Pyatt posted 15 points in 16 games for the Checkers, and ended up playing both the Calder and Kelly Cup Playoffs.
"That year was a struggle for me, obviously it was a big learning experience," he said.
"I was having a tough time in the American League, so they put me down in the (ECHL) for a bit to improve my game a little bit. It worked out good, it was kind of nice to go down there and experience it. It was good for me."
Pyatt spent the entire 2008-09 season in the AHL, posting a career-high 15 goals in 73 games, and seemed on the verge of an opportunity in the NHL. But before he could progress any further with the Rangers, he was involved in the club’s mega-deal with the Montreal Canadiens prior to the start of the 2008-09 season, in which he was among seven players swapping teams in the Scott Gomez trade.
"I got a voicemail from (Jim Schoenfeld), and he just told me I was involved in a trade," said Pyatt of how he found out about the deal.
"There were mixed emotions, obviously. It’s kind of like a shock at first, but then I realized it was a good move for me. It worked out good, I got my first 100 games with Montreal, so it worked out."
That first game came on November 5, 2009 against the Boston Bruins, and a dream had finally been realized after having taken the road less traveled.
"It was a great feeling," Pyatt said. "After working hard in the minors for over two years, to get that first call-up was awesome. I got to play my first game in Boston, which was a neat experience.
After splitting the 2009-10 season between the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs and Montreal, Pyatt spent the entire 2010-11 season in the NHL before becoming an unrestricted free agent. He signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and his strong play last season has earned him a two-year extension.
"I think I just fit this team well, the way they play and the system they have," said Pyatt of his 12-goal season.
"A lot of the guys on this team can really skate, and I think I fit that pretty well. This year, I think I’ve been going to the net a lot more and getting rewarded."
But it’s his work ethic that gets noticed most by his teammates, with St. Louis calling him "resilient" while pointing out "he never gives up on any plays." Pyatt is certainly making the most of his opportunity with Tampa Bay, and his teammates have noticed that some confidence has come with that as well.
"All you can ask for is an opportunity, and he’s getting that opportunity now," Stamkos told ECHL.com.
"You can see what he’s done with it. He’s having his best year offensively, and he’s playing a lot of minutes. That builds confidence for a player, and that’s so big in this game. Confidence comes and goes so quick. If you can hold onto it as long as you can by getting that opportunity and proving what you can do with that, that’s all you want as a player."