You never seem to notice Mark Pysyk. And that’s a very good thing.
When you’re a young defenseman who plays a simple but consistent game and isn’t flashy on offense, the last thing you want to do is stand out. Usually, that means you’ve made a big mistake.
Most young guys want to be seen and heard. Not Pysyk. Quiet on the ice is the way to go at this point for the 21-year-old, who seems to be a lock to open the season on the Buffalo Sabres’ blueline.
“Absolutely true,” Pysyk said, when asked if he felt not being noticed was a compliment. “That’s the kind of game I play. I’m simple defensively. I just want to be the hardest-working guy that I can be and be that consistent player.”
The Sabres have nine defensemen left on their roster heading their final home preseason game tonight at 7 in First Niagara Center against the Columbus Blue Jackets (MSG, Radio 550 AM). They’re expected to keep eight. Pysyk is in no danger of going anywhere.
The team was off Tuesday and will reveal its lineup this morning. But when the season opens Oct. 2 in Detroit, Pysyk is expected to be alongside veteran Henrik Tallinder, making him an NHL regular in just his second pro season. But that’s what the Sabres expected from their No. 1 draft pick in 2010, a former captain of the Edmonton Oil Kings.
The 6-foot-1, 192-pounder is a good passer, with strong vision to get the puck out of his zone. And he’s tough positionally, rarely getting caught where he shouldn’t be.
Not a huge offensive threat, Pysyk never had more than seven goals or 40 points in junior hockey and had just four goals and 14 assists in 57 games last year in Rochester.
He had one goal in 19 games for the Sabres, that coming in the final 90 seconds of the 8-4 loss to the New York Rangers in April that ended their playoff hopes.
In Saturday’s shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pysyk opened the scoring with a neat end-to-end rush. He outskated the Toronto forwards through the neutral zone and drove the net hard to take a give-and-go pass from Drew Stafford before beating James Reimer with a shot to the top corner.
“He has that ability,” said coach Ron Rolston. “Right at the end of last season, he was showing it a little bit. The more comfortable he gets, he’ll be able to jump in those holes. He’s a smart player offensively. He’ll be able to help us there.”
“First and foremost, you’re trying to keep the puck out of your net,” Pysyk said. “The offense will come if you’re keeping that out of your net.”
Pysyk was a leader in his junior days, playing four seasons for Edmonton and captaining the team to the Western Hockey League title in 2012. He even got acclimated to an NHL rink as the Oil Kings play their home games at Rexall Place, home of the Oilers.
He struggled early after his callup to the Sabres in March. But his confidence grew with each outing and he’s looked completely at ease in training camp this year.
“You sort of realize when you play, it’s still hockey,” he said. “It’s the same game you’ve played your whole life. If the opportunity is there, you’re going to take it. No matter what league, no matter who you’re playing with. Just seeing that last year, the confidence level is definitely more than it was at the start of last year.”
Because of Tuesday’s off day, there was no update on injured forwards Cody McCormick, Marcus Foligno and Corey Tropp. Rolston said Monday he expected at least McCormick to be available tonight.
Center Matt Ellis and defenseman Drew Bagnall cleared waivers Tuesday and reported to Rochester. Ellis is expected to become the Amerks’ captain.
Colton Gillies, the former Minnesota Wild No. 1 pick who was recently released from his tryout contract by the Sabres, may be signed to join the Americans.