on July 10, 2013 - 11:19 PM
, updated July 10, 2013 at 11:20 PM
Mark Pysyk and Jake McCabe are still reveling in unforgettable years. Pysyk rose from minor-league scratch to dependable NHL defenseman. McCabe transformed from college project to international junior star.
They’ll spend the first part of the summer reliving their accomplishments. Then it’s time to prepare for an encore.
Pysyk and McCabe are two of the 40 players taking part in the Buffalo Sabres’ development camp this week. The opening day Wednesday was laid-back and filled with testing and light drills, which is fine for players coming off strenuous albeit exhilarating seasons.
Pysyk played in 19 of the Sabres’ 48 games after starting his first pro season in Rochester. He skated in the 18- to 20-minute range during the final seven games to seemingly lock down a spot for next year.
Now he’ll have to work for it. Pysyk has watched with interest as the Sabres made moves along the blue line this offseason. They drafted two defensemen in the first round, added two more in trades and re-signed another who was expected to walk out the door.
It’s made things crowded, but Pysyk doesn’t mind.
“It’s definitely exciting for the future,” the 21-year-old said in First Niagara Center. “A lot of defensemen, a lot of challenge to make the team, a lot of competition within the team, which will be good. I think it’ll push everybody to be that much better.”
Pysyk is joined by fellow holdovers Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff, Mike Weber, Chad Ruhwedel and Alexander Sulzer, who is back on a one-year deal after having his season cut short by knee surgery. Henrik Tallinder and Jamie McBain arrived via trade. No. 8 overall pick Rasmus Ristolainen will compete for an NHL job, and Brayden McNabb hopes to finally make the leap from the Amerks.
“I’m just going to do the same thing as last year, come in in the best shape I can and be the best player I can be, and see what happens,” Pysyk said. “I’m looking forward to it. I got a little taste. Once you get that taste, you’ll do anything to get back there and keep playing there.”
McCabe should join the mix in a couple of years. The 19-year-old became a bona fide prospect when he led the United States to the gold medal at the world junior championships. The team captain had three goals, six assists and a plus-9 rating.
“It was awfully fun to bring that gold medal home,” McCabe said. “It’s cool to be so close to guys in a matter of two weeks, and now you’ve got something to share the rest of your life. I think that was pretty special.”
McCabe has always been looked to for leadership, but the tournament took that role to an entirely different level.
“I learned that I’m a bigger leader than I think I am,” he said. “I’ve always known I’m a leader, but I think that tournament especially made me realize I can step up in situations and lead by example as well as be vocal in the locker room.”
His focus for this season is to lead Wisconsin to the inaugural Big 10 title and win the NCAA national championship. He’ll spend the summer skating on campus with NHLers such as Joe Pavelski, Jack Skille, Adam Burish and Brian Elliott.
“It’s a good atmosphere around there,” McCabe said. “Go take a class and get bigger, faster, stronger.
“It’s been an awesome year, and hopefully it keeps getting better from here.”
The Sabres hoped to have Ristolainen in the organization next year, but it appears the only way that will happen is if he makes Buffalo’s roster.
After the Sabres drafted the Finnish defenseman, they said he had no contractual obligations overseas. Thus, if he didn’t make the Sabres, it appeared the team could develop him in Rochester.
“I think no,” Ristolainen said. “I’ve got a contract with my hometown team.”
The native of Turko, Finland, has spent the past two seasons in the Finnish elite league with TPS Turko.
It took 14 years, but Mike Zigomanis is finally in the Sabres’ organization.
The Sabres have signed Zigomanis, West Seneca’s Alex Lepkowski and forward Frederick Roy to minor-league contracts with the Rochester Americans.
Zigomanis is the most intriguing of the trio. Buffalo selected him in the second round of the 1999 draft, and it had two years to sign him. They finally agreed to a deal about a half-hour before the deadline, but their initial contract exchange had a salary error. They tried to fix it and fax the deal into the NHL, but it didn’t arrive before the deadline because the league’s fax machines were overworked.
Zigomanis went back into the draft, got selected by Carolina in 2001 and has played for nine NHL and AHL teams, plus a squad in Sweden.
The Sabres selected Lepkowski in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, but they didn’t sign him in the two-year window that expired last month. The defenseman remained close with the organization and is participating in prospect camp.
“There was talk beforehand that if I passed through the draft I still had a home here, which was a relief,” Lepkowski said. “It’s great to be part of this organization still.”
Roy played in 64 games with the Amerks last season, putting up eight goals and two assists.