Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Before we get to Mark Pysyk, a few notes on last nights preseason game at Washington.
--The Capitals beat the Sabres 1-0, but the most interesting thing about the game was the fact that superstar Alex Ovechkin played. Not sure why they would have him in vs. a team full of rookies, prospects and borderline NHL'ers, but new Washington bench-boss Barry Trotz must have had a reason. Ovechkin played over 17 minutes and was called for a slash on the Sabres Torrey Mitchell on a breakaway. Not sure I've ever seen Ovechkin hustle on a back-check before. Maybe he just didn't know what to do in a situation like that.
--Rookie center Sam Reinhart's stat-line looks like this: 16:53 of ice-time, zero points, minus-1. To put it in perspective, he's an 18 yr. old playing against men for the first time and he put on a middle of the road performance. No need to jump off a bridge.
--Everyone talks about the textbook hipcheck Washington's Nathan Walker laid on Buffalo's Vaclav Karabacek, and it was a doozy. But Sabres d-man Nikita Zadorov also had a nice one as he sent Caps forward Michael Latta end-over-end at the Buffalo blueline.
--Despite getting sent flying, Karabacek played a real solid game. He's fast and aggressive, goes north/south and plays the game bigger than his 6'0" 190 lb. frame. Definitely someone to keep an eye on.
--Zadorov had a good game. It seemed as if he was locked in. Which is good because over the course of the last year or so he's tended to lose focus making him look like the raw rookie he is. At times it was fatigue, as with the London Knights last season when he was logging 30 minutes a game. At other times he just looks as if his head's somewhere else, like versus Dallas at Traverse City. When he's locked in he'll play within himself and look as if he's ready for the NHL. Looks like he'll need another year or two to work on his consistency.
--It took a while for Joel Armia to get going, but once he did he was battling quite well.
--Nathan Lieuwen had a strong game. He allowed one goal to the Caps Andre Burakovsky on a wicked wrister from the slot that went top-shelf, glove side. It was a sniper's goal as Burakovsky found an opening in the slot and got the shot off quick.
--Newcomer Andre Benoit wore the "A" as did fellow defenseman, Mike Weber.
--Finally, for those keeping track, the Sabres scored 1, 1, 3, and 1 goals at Traverse City and have a goose egg to start out the preseason.
Mark Pysyk is the type of player that doesn't want or need to be noticed. And that's a good thing for a defensive defenseman.
The 6' 1", 193 lb. Pysyk plays an understated game, one that's heady and steady. He's not flashy, won't go on an end-to-end rush won't dazzle you with a spin-o-rama or a bone-crunching hit. What Pysyk will do is move the puck to the proper place anywhere on the ice, in any situation, consistently. It's a product of his innate sense for the game and the way he's climbed through the hockey ranks without any shortcuts.
He was the first ever pick of the fourth incarnation of the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2007 and would proceed to play four full seasons with the team. In 2012, his final season with the club, Pysyk would captain the Oil Kings to the 2012 Ed Chynoweth Cup. He also a part of Canada's Bronze Medal team at the 2012 World Juniors.
In his first pro season, Pysyk would play in 57 games for the Rochester Americans while also making his Sabres debut on March 17, 2013. He played the rest of the season (19 games total) with Buffalo and would finish the year with a stat-line of one goal, four assists and a minus-7 rating on a Buffalo team that was in the middle of tearing down their roster.
Even in that difficult environment, Pysyk remained focused and looked as if he belonged in the NHL. Heading into the 2013-14 season, he was targeted as one of the team's top-six d-men.
Pysyk started the season with the club and at one point found himself playing 20 minutes a game opposite Sabres #1 defenseman, Christian Ehrhoff. He would play a really sound game for a youngin, even amidst the malaise surrounding the team's atrocious start. “He’s really poised," said Ehrhoff at the time.
As the team crashed to the bottom of the league and coaching/front office changes came, Pysyk remained solid and was often considered one the best players on the ice. He would play 23 more games with the Sabres before being sent to Rochester in a move that was somewhat curious.
The decision was made by Pat LaFontaine, Sabres Director of Hockey Ops at the time, interim coach Ted Nolan, and new GM Tim Murray. They felt that Pysyk would be better off getting playing time in Rochester during the Olympic break. They decided to keep him there the rest of the season as the team was finishing it's roster purge and resetting the organization.
Probably the most telling aspect concerning Pysyk's character is his response to remaining in Rochester. His approach was as calm and professional as his on-ice play. “I definitely think I need to work on my consistency,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve outgrown this league at all.”
Said long-time Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens of Pysyk's approach, "He's just glad to be playing the game of hockey, which is the kind of player you want. He wants to be playing. I think he's smart enough to know that he has a long career ahead of him and that he can settle in for the long haul."
There's still work to be done and still untapped offensive potential. Murray had said that he'd like to see more from him offensively. So too did Amerks bench-boss Chadd Cassidy. “I don’t think he needs to play as safe as he does sometimes,” Cassidy said. “At [the AHL] I think he can be more aggressive and take some more chances offensively and try to create a little bit more."
"Taking chances" isn't something the seems to be a part of Pysyk's demeanor, but if ever there was a time to fully step outside his comfort-zone, this will be the year. The Sabres are a team on the build-side of a rebuild and not much should be expected of the youngins except a huge amount of growing pains.
Hopefully he can add a little more offensively and use his hockey smarts and intelligence to hit the score sheet more often. Players like Andrej Meszaros and Andre Benoit will be there for help, as will assistant coach Bryan Trottier who played with fellow Hall of Famer, Denis Potvin.
One thing Pysyk shouldn't count on, though, is continued assistance of an opposition goalie:
Building the 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Matt Moulson/C, Tyler Ennis/RW, Drew Stafford
Cody Hodgson/Zemgus Girgensons/Brian Gionta
Brian Flynn/Marcus Foligno/Chris Stewart
LHD, Josh Gorges/RHD, Tyler Myers
Andre Benoit/Rasmus Ristolainen
Andrej Meszaros/Mark Pysyk