So I've been trying to think of a name for the Rochester Americans' top defensive pairing of Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk. Here's what I have so far: Bark McSyk. Mayden PyNabb. BraySyk.
Well, I'll have to keep working on it.
The clever fans of Buffalo might want to start thinking about a nickname now because the Amerks' top pair could very well be their one of their top combinations for the Sabres next season. McNabb – who fans became acquainted with last season – and first-year professional Pysyk have done a great deal of impressing in the American Hockey League and are getting closer and closer to being ready for The Show.
Neither is quite up for the Sabres' lineup this season. McNabb struggled out of the gate and didn't begin to look like the NHLer he was last season until around the time the NHL lockout came to an end. Since the lockout's end, however, he's taken off with 15 points in 18 games and a plus-2 rating.
“I've seen some significant changes in his game in the last month and a half,” Amerks head coach Chadd Cassidy said. “When he's playing at his best, he runs the game. He's gotten away from trying to make plays when they are not there. I think you see a lot more of him making strong plays, just high flips out of the zone when he's in trouble or just getting it deep in the offensive zone if there's nothing there.”
McNabb played 25 games for the Sabres last season and scored eight points last season. In the American Hockey League, McNabb has totaled 63 points in 98 games and is plus-17.
As for Pysyk, the 21-year-old had to make the usual adjustments involved with coming from juniors – namely getting used to playing against guys twice his 6-foot-1, 190-pound size.
“I think the biggest thing is my stick battles,” Pysyk said after practice last week. “Earlier in the year, I was a little softer with stick and body battles in the corner. I'm playing against bigger, stronger guys than in junior, so it took me a little while to rap my mind around the fact that every time you go for a puck, you have to go your hardest. No free passes.”
Speaking of passes, Pysyk, who is plus-8 in 51 games this season with 15 points, hits his teammates' tape at an NHL level. That combined with his solid skating ability, quick decision making behind his own net and vision to find open forwards on defensive zone exists have made it obvious why he was a top draft pick.
“When you watch him play, there's a very low panic point,” Cassidy said. “He never gets rattled and he never puts himself in bad situations. He also has an unbelievable stick. It's amazing how many times he goes into a scrum and comes out with the puck and puts it on our centerman's tape and we're out of the zone.”
Cassidy adds that his young D-man is, well, a pretty bright guy.
“He's as smart and heady a defenseman as we've had in the couple years I've been here,” the Amerks' coach said.
Though he isn't going to have outbursts on the ice or drop the gloves, Pysyk's makeup showed through in juniors. He was the captain of the championship-winning Edmonton Oil Kings and played a great deal of the end of the season with a broken foot. During the playoffs he was plus-9 with 11 points in 20 WHL playoff games.
Current Sabres interim head coach Ron Rolston was impressed early on by Pysyk's play. After the fourth game of the season, he said, “he's catching on quickly, that's what the good ones do.”
In order to make the Sabres' roster next season, Pysyk needs to bulk up. While it isn't his game to throw his body around, he'll have to be stronger to match up nightly with the NHL's strongest forwards.
“The biggest thing in his development is getting bigger physically,” Cassidy said. “Even at this level there are nights where he'll get moved off the puck playing against bigger forwards.”
Pysyk agrees with Cassidy about bulking up. He also said he's still taking the opportunity in Rochester to learn from the NHL'ers who are playing (or have played) in the minors this year from veterans such as Adam Pardy, Cody McCormick and Matt Ellis.
When will we see McNabb and Pysyk...err, McSyk? It's possible they both could see a few games in the NHL if there's a deadline move or the injury bug strikes again, but with Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr set to become free agents at the end of the year, it's a pretty safe bet Sabres' fans will see one or both (PyNabb?) in the lineup every night in 2013-14.