“I’ve Earned Everything I’ve Gotten”: Tyler Tullio’s Journey to the NHL Entry Draft
By Jonah Fleisher
With the NHL Entry Draft looming, the excitement and nervous energy is building for prospect Tyler Tullio. The Oshawa General’s winger stands at 5’9”, 161 lbs and scored just over a point per game this past season, making for 27 goals and 39 assists in 62 games. The small, skilled forward is expected to be chosen on Wednesday, landing in the second or third round of the draft.
“[The nervousness] is starting to creep up on me more and more as its been getting closer,” Tullio told Draft Prospects Hockey. “It’s obviously a little bit different [from the OHL draft] because you had a little bit of an idea of what was happening. [With this one], you need to have more of an open mind, and you can’t think anything negative because anything can happen. Now, creeping up day by day, it’s taking more of a toll on me and it’s always there in the back of my mind, but I try not to put too much in front of it.”
Tullio began skating when he was three years old, but hockey was his favourite sport from an early age. He played soccer and lacrosse growing up, but it was merely recreational and by the time he was ten years old, he stopped playing other sports and focused solely on hockey.
“I started skating when I was around three, doing Sunday skates and that kind of stuff, and when I turned six I started in select-7 and house league. And that’s when the journey kind of started for me,” Tullio remembers. “From there I played for my home team, Windsor, really for my whole career, and once I got to Minor Midget that’s when I decided to go to Vaughan to play a year for my Minor Midget year, because I always played a year up. During that season, things kind of turned out really well and that’s really when I knew that hockey was gonna be my main thing, and then fortunately I got drafted to Oshawa 11th overall.”
Tullio has experienced great progression thus far in Oshawa, and after a season in which he scored 15 goals and 27 assists in 60 games, he upped the ante and excelled in a bigger role on a line with Nashville Predators top prospect Philip Tomasino, scoring 66 points in 62 games.
“My first two years in Oshawa went really well and I had great progression there, so I gained a lot of confidence within those two seasons,” Tullio said. “ Now coming into hopefully a third season with the team and with the draft in a couple days, this is now something that I don’t really do for fun — it’s kind of a job for me, so kind of something I worked up towards and something I hope to be doing for the rest of my life.”
Tullio missed the cut for Team Canada’s U18 team, but instead of getting down on himself, he used it as motivation to keep working and getting better.
“I think the only [setback] would have been being cut from Team Canada’s U18 team,” Tullio said. “With that, I took it as motivation just because I went in there having the mentality that I was hoping to make the team and after getting cut I took that as a fire under myself and it fuelled me that season to work that much harder and I wanted to prove everybody wrong.”
Growing up, the Windsor-native Tullio was a fan of the Red Wings. “It was ‘06/’07 and there was Detroit and Pittsburgh who went back-to-back in the finals, and that’s when I saw my first games and first Final games. We lived in Windsor, so we went over the border to watch in back-to-back years and it was really fun to see both of those championship games.”
“But honestly, when I was younger, I would probably say Crosby was my favourite player growing up — and I’m pretty sure a lot of players would say he was — but also growing up now, looking at the game, I would probably say McDavid is at that number-one spot now.”
On the ice, Tullio tries to evoke the pesky play of Brad Marchand.
“[I try to evoke] a little bit of Marchand. Not so much the on-ice antics, but just the way he plays — he uses his body, goes to the dirty areas, scores goals, makes plays, and he’s a leader on and off the ice, so he’s really someone I’ve kind of evolved my game after.”
Coronavirus put a wrench in many prospects’ development plans, but Tullio was fortunate enough to have the resources at his disposal to make sure he could continue to work out and skate during quarantine, addressing scouts’ concerns over his strength and size.
“For myself, once we heard that the season wasn’t continuing, I was fortunate enough to have a gym to go to and a trainer to work with over the summer. Near the end of May/start of June I started getting back out on the ice and started playing but a main goal for myself going into my third season was to build a lot of strength and size and I think I did that this summer.”
When he wasn’t on the ice or working out, Tullio spent time learning to play golf, a game he found “frustrating but a lot of fun at the same time.”
The draft process in general has had to change due to COVID-19 with no combine and interviews taking place over Zoom, but Tullio says the new procedures aren’t too unusual.
“It’s been, obviously, with coronavirus and all this, a little bit of a different process — not just for me, but for everybody, jumping into something different. Obviously not having the combine and the interviews there it’s different but now just doing Zoom calls and stuff like that, talking to teams over the phone, it’s not too different, even though in-person interviews are obviously a lot different than Zoom calls. Really, the process has been — I wouldn’t say very different, but I would say it’s really been somewhat the same.”
Tullio plays a committed game, making sure to get to the dirty areas and get under the opponents’ skin.
“I’d probably say my hockey IQ or my grit are my top attributes and [my biggest weakness would be] my skating — I think that’s something everybody can kind of work on throughout their years and I think that’s something I’ve always wanted to work on and have needed to work on because you can never be too fast. You can always be improving, and you always want to be the fastest guy on the ice,” Tullio said.
“Going into my third year, [my play and leadership qualities] are going to pay a lot more dividends just because I’m going to be depended on more by my team and my coach, so just those little things — we may be down by a goal and just need a big hit, or just little things like that. Getting to the dirty areas, I can just give my team a little bit of a boost, especially if we have a Memorial Cup season with the Generals, it could go a long way.”
“Tyler has a unique perspective in growing up around this club and seeing players like [John] Tavares, [Boone] Jenner, [Scott] Laughton, [Anthony] Cirelli, and many more give their heart and soul for this club,” Generals GM Roger Hunt said. “Ty does that every game and always leads by example. He continues to grow as a player and a person. This will become his team along with some of the older guys. Ty knows what it’s like to win here and he will be part of another winner here during his time.”
When Tullio got drafted 11th overall to the Generals, the team owned by his dad, Rocco, many were quick to point out the apparent nepotism, but through two years with the club, it’s clear that Tullio has let his play speak for itself.
“Going into my first year when I got drafted to Oshawa that was one of the only things anyone ever talked about but we had a talk with our coach and GM and all that stuff and obviously it’s an unfortunate thing for the team but at the same time, I know I wanted to create my own destiny and create my own way and throughout my last two years I’ve proved that and that I’ve earned everything I’ve gotten,” Tullio said. “At the end of the day, [my dad] is just someone who sits up there and he knows when it’s time to be a parent but he also knows when it’s time to be an owner and he doesn’t get involved to the point where he makes decisions for other players, myself, and the coach or GM — he leaves that for them to do. So it’s been a really good two years and we’ve had no issues on and off the ice, and I think that I’ve been able to create my own destiny.”
At some point early on Wednesday night, we’ll find out where that destiny leads him. Until then, the nervous energy will continue to build.