This spring, for the second straight year, a top-flight Sabres defensive prospect captained his team to the Western Hockey League championship.
Last May, it was Brayden McNabb who led the Kootenay Ice to a WHL championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup. Months later, he began his professional career with the Rochester Americans and had a successful rookie season that saw him named an AHL All-Star, appear in his first NHL game and score his first goal in The Show.
Now, Mark Pysyk hopes to continue following in McNabb’s footsteps.
Pysyk, a first round draft choice of the Sabres in 2010, led the Edmonton Oil Kings to the Ed Chynoweth Cup for winning the WHL championship back in May, then played in the Memorial Cup. Now, the defenseman is poised to make the jump to professional hockey and could potentially begin the 2012-13 season with the Amerks. The first step comes this week as he participates in Buffalo’s Development Camp.
“I think I’m more ready than last year,” Pysyk said when asked how prepared he was to move up to the professional ranks. “Come the fall, I’ll know for sure. I feel pretty good right now and hopefully I’m ready to make the jump next year.”
The WHL championship run capped off a tremendous year for Pysyk, who also won a bronze medal at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship for Team Canada in his home province of Alberta back in January. He finished the 2011-12 WHL season with 38 points (6+32) and 83 penalty minutes in 57 games before adding 11 more points (3+8) in 20 postseason outings.
The 6-foot-2, 188-pound defenseman finished his junior career with 125 points (25+100) in 243 career games with Edmonton and is now set to make the jump to professional hockey. While this week marks his third appearance at Sabres Development Camp, it is the first time he knows he won’t be returning to the Oil Kings. It is also giving him one more chance to measure himself against other top young players in the organization before training camp starts in September.
“I think just learning to do everything with the highest speed, that’s the biggest difference when you come here and play with guys who have NHL experience,” Pysyk said of what he hopes to get out of this week’s camp while making the transition to the pros. Among the Development Camp attendees with NHL games under their belt are Luke Adam, Cody Hodgson, Marcus Foligno, Corey Tropp and McNabb.
Pysyk’s rookie season will come at a time when jobs on the blue line in the Sabres/Amerks organization are at a premium, so he’s using this camp as another stepping stone in his progression as a player. Among the players currently under contract with the Sabres include returnees Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff, Robyn Regehr, Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber, Jordan Leopold, Alexander Sulzer and the recently acquired Adam Pardy. In addition, defensemen from last year’s Amerks squad that are still around include McNabb, Joe Finley, Nick Crawford and Matt MacKenize, while T.J. Brennan, Alex Biega and Drew Schiestel are restricted free agents.
“It’s going to be tough for anyone new to crack that lineup,” Pysyk said. “Everyone just needs to put the work in and keep trying to get up there. This week you want to see where you stack up against the guys you’ll be competing against for spots come training camp.”