The Buffalo Sabres like to tout the high number of first-round draft picks they have on their current roster. If you quickly run the list through your mind, there's one who might slip your mind despite him being a rookie.
Mark Pysyk doesn't play a loud game. He doesn't body slam forwards into the wall, he doesn't throw punches, he doesn't have a 100 mph slap shot and he doesn't often run his yap. What the 21-year-old, selected 23rd overall in 2010, does do is play such a smart and smooth game that you forget he's only played 46 NHL games.
Pysyk was a well-respected player coming out of juniors, especially after his Edmonton Oil Kings team went to the Memorial Cup and he played through a broken foot. Not to mention he was captain of the club.
The young defenseman had an outstanding season in Rochester in 2012-13 and got his feet wet with 19 games in the NHL last season. During the pre-season, he was hoping to grab a spot on the roster. Not only did he accomplish that goal, but Pysyk earned a slot playing next to Buffalo's $40 million alternate captain Christian Ehrhoff.
"He's very professional," Pysyk said of Ehrhoff. "He plays with poise, he's a good skater. I try to see little plays that I could find myself in and see how he handles himself in those."
The Pysyk-Ehrhoff pairing was Buffalo's most successful in a landslide. The two are No. 1 and 2 in Relative Corsi (a shot-based possession statistic that measures an individual's possession vs. the rest of the team).
The Sabres are the NHL's worst possession team, but when Pysyk and his veteran partner are on the ice, the team is improved from taking 39.1% of the total shots at the net to 46.4% according to the website stats.hockeyanalysis.com
"I think it has gone up and down," Pysyk said of his play thus far. "At the start of this year, I was playing with Hoffer (Ehrhoff) and things were going alright, then I went through a few games there where I couldn't seem to get anything right on the ice...I think it's getting back and I have that confidence again."
Interim head coach Ted Nolan sat his rookie D-man down after a rough outing against St. Louis on Nov. 19.
Nolan, however, said the benching wasn't exactly about a rough stretch.
"With Pysyk, it wasn't so much his play," the Sabres' interim coach said Monday. "It was just about seeing other people. He's done a tremendous job for us."
Regardless, the 21-year-old took it as a wake-up call and looked for areas to improve.
"With confidence and being too comfortable, there's a fine line," Pysyk said. "I think I was getting a little too comfortable and not doing the simple things. I was getting a little soft on my stick battles and for a guy like me, that's my whole game."
Since, he's been playing somewhat with recent call-up Brayden McNabb. In just over 25 minutes of ice time, the two were on the ice for an outstanding 54.9% of shot attempts.
There are many factors that can alter the numbers - one of them being the difficulty of minutes. Pysyk has received only 41% of on-ice faceoffs in the offensive zone, which is the lowest number for any Sabres D-man.
That's pretty rare for a defenseman in his first full season.
With that said, Pysyk still needs to show some improvement offensively. He's posted just nine points in 46 games - albeit with limited power play time. But there's potential there for more offense.
If he scores a few more, maybe his name will be one of the first that comes to mind when you say Sabres first-rounders. Even if it doesn't, they underlying numbers suggest maybe it should.
- Alex Sulzer did not practice - he had a maintenance day
-Cody McCormick is "ready to go" according to Ted Nolan
- The Sabres held a power skating session and worked extra on skating at the end of the practice.