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Pyatt feeling the heat Sabres forward battling for spot

If Taylor Pyatt is feeling uneasy about his status with the Buffalo Sabres, then he's rather perceptive.

Pyatt is entering his fifth NHL season, and Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said it's about time the 6-foot-4, 227-pound left wing make an on-ice statement that hasn't yet been heard.

"He's got good size. He's got good speed. But he's got to do something with it," Ruff said after the Sabres worked out Saturday in the ESL Centre on the Monroe Community College campus.

Ruff will have his eye on several players when the Sabres play the Tampa Bay Lightning at 5 tonight in the St. Pete Times Forum. Martin Biron will make his second start in goal and there are still a couple of battles to be determined on the blue line.

Pyatt, however, might be the one who feels the collective eyes of the front office boring into him.

"This is going to be my fifth year in the league, and I definitely got to make things happen," said Pyatt, who turned 24 last month. He was only 19 when he played his first 78 NHL games. "I'm a young guy still, but that's not an excuse anymore. I've got enough experience to know I've got to contribute when I get a chance."

Pyatt is one of only three Sabres who have played in three preseason games yet don't have a point. The others are defenseman Brian Campbell and enforcer Andrew Peters.

"You don't want to create undue pressure, but the pressure's coming from the guys that are playing around him," Ruff said. "I don't think if you were sitting there staring at the stats you would feel comfortable."

Ruff said he considers Pyatt among a group competing for four roster spots. The coach also named Tim Connolly, Ales Kotalik, Derek Roy, Paul Gaustad
and Jason Pominville as players "fighting for a big piece of the pie" with 10 days to go before the season opener.

"He's got to really show something," Ruff said of Pyatt. "That may mean you're a 12th forward. It may mean you're a 13th forward. But that puts you in a category that you need to get something done."

So competing for the last spot on a roster is what Pyatt's career has come to six years after the New York Islanders drafted him eighth overall with visions of an eventual Todd Bertuzzi.

If that didn't conjure enough expectations, he came to Buffalo with Connolly in the trade for captain Michael Peca before the 2001-02 season.

And are the Sabres willing to spend $989,720 on the lowest forward on their ladder?

"It's got to be a breakout year for myself," Pyatt said. "It's going to be a very competitive camp, and it has been with all the depth we have at forward. I'm just trying to go out and play the best I can, prepare for the season."

Pyatt's best campaign was 2002-03, when he recorded career highs with 14 goals and 14 assists in 78 games. The next season, he had eight goals and 12 assists, but he missed 11 games with a knee injury and eight more with a dislocated collarbone.

Revamped NHL rules and the crackdown on obstruction could improve Pyatt's value, although it hasn't been evident on the preseason score sheets yet. The belief is that Pyatt's large frame can create traffic at the top of the crease and lead to screens and converted rebounds.

"People always think it's the smaller, skilled guys that (the new rules) benefit, but I think it benefits the big guys that can skate just as much," Pyatt said. "Going to the net, there's no obstruction. So hopefully you can find some open ice and be able to get to the net, get some goals in the net."

Said Ruff: "It's up to him. He's going to control his own destiny in a sense that he's going to get his opportunities to play, and he's got to make something happen."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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