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Sabres make Pysyk first pick Defenseman has ability to skate and pass NHL Draft: Broken foot allows good prospect to fall to 23rd pick overall

Mark Pysyk was getting nervous. The first round of the NHL draft was rolling along -- through the teens and into the 20s -- and the defenseman was still sitting in the stands despite his seventh overall ranking by Central Scouting.

It wasn't when or if he was going to get selected that had Pysyk anxious, however. It was something of a different nature.

"The only thing I was worried about was I had to pee a little bit," the Buffalo Sabres' first-round pick said with a laugh Friday. "I didn't know how long I could wait for that, but I just made it."

Fortunately for Pysyk and the Sabres, the 23rd overall selection finally came in Staples Center. The 18-year-old from Alberta had his chance to relieve his bladder, while the Sabres were merely relieved the Edmonton Oil Kings' blue-liner was available.

"He's got great wheels," said Kevin Devine, the Sabres' director of amateur scouting. "We had him very high on our board all year long. I think we had him in the top 15 and Central's got him No. 7, so we were pretty happy there. We were looking for a forward, but he was too high on our board, so we took him."

The Sabres, who enjoyed the wondrous rookie season of Tyler Myers, have seen how much a smooth-skating defenseman can help the squad. So they picked another one.

Pysyk -- pronounced Pes-ik -- is 6-foot-1, 174 pounds and has very good skating and passing skills as an 18-year-old. He played just 48 games last season after suffering a broken foot, contributing seven goals and 17 assists.

Pysyk and Devine invoked the name of Chicago's Duncan Keith in describing Pysyk's game, though Devine conceded the blue-liner is likely three years from contributing in the NHL because he needs to gain weight.

"He really fits what the game is about today," Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier said. "He's got great feet, an offensive defenseman and someone that I think will really get better over the next few years."

The broken bone cost Pysyk the end of his season and also likely cost him an earlier bathroom break.

"The scouts have short memories," Devine said. "He broke his foot at the end of the year and didn't play the last two months. His team missed the playoffs. He didn't play in the big tournament at the end of the year.

"When the game gets tougher at the next level, he'll compete."

He wasn't quite ready to battle on stage while getting his new Blue and Gold jersey, however. After getting hugs from his parents, Terry and Sherry, and his sister Nicole, Pysyk made an uneasy walk to the podium.

"I was walking on the carpet to go up and shake [Commissioner] Gary Bettman's hand, and he told me, 'Welcome to the NHL,' " Pysyk said. "I remember standing up there smiling into the cameras, and I could feel my lips kind of quivering. That's why I think people put their arms around each other so the draft pick doesn't fall down from shaking so much."

The Sabres will be much busier today as the draft resumes in Staples Center with rounds two through seven. The Sabres are scheduled to pick eight times, though not in the second round. They have three picks in the third and another early in the fourth, giving them four selections between Nos. 68 and 98.

Though the Sabres were happy with the selection of Pysyk, the disappointment was equally obvious when the Detroit Red Wings picked Riley Sheahan with the 21st pick. The big Notre Dame center, who was born in St. Catharines, Ont., seemed an ideal choice for the Sabres.

Regier and the scouts at the Sabres' table shook their heads and frowned as Sheahan made his way toward the stage.

"There were a few guys that went right before us that were in our mix for sure," Devine said. "Still, Mark was higher on our board than those guys."

Pysyk is content to finally be on the board.

"First round, second round, seventh round, it's the NHL draft. It's incredible to be here," said Pysyk.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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