Mark Pysyk gets nervous sometimes when he looks at the Sabres’ defense corps. Buffalo has bolstered its blue line, so the competition for playing time will be intense.
Then Pysyk gets on the ice. He reads the plays correctly, makes the right passes and looks like the bona fide NHL player he wants to be.
After three years of being a part-timer, the time is right for Pysyk to make a permanent home in Buffalo.
“That’s the goal every training camp is to make the team and start the season up here,” Pysyk said in First Niagara Center. “My focus is no different than the last few years, just come in and try to earn a spot.
“You sort of feel the same stuff every training camp. There’s a little bit of uncertainty whenever you’re out there and you see all the guys, then there’s times when you feel pretty confident.”
Pysyk should feel confident. For the first time in his career, the 23-year-old would need to clear waivers to be sent to Rochester. There’s no chance Buffalo would risk losing its first-round pick from 2010.
That fact aside, Pysyk has what it takes to crack the Sabres’ lineup. He’s talented, smart and has learned a lot during his three years bouncing between Buffalo and Rochester.
“He’s an extremely talented player in the way he approaches the game and his mindset the way he sees the game,” said defense partner Mike Weber. “I probably have to say he’s one of our higher IQ defensemen back there. It’s a pleasure to be playing with him, even in camp. It makes my job easier when he’s talking to me. He sees the game a little differently than I see the game when we’re talking on the bench.
“It’d be nice for him to get in and be here.”
Pysyk’s hockey IQ has been evident since he was the captain of his junior team. The smarts allowed him to get 19 NHL games during his first professional season in 2012-13. He played 44 games for the Sabres in 2013-14, a run that seemed to set the foundation for a big season last year.
Pysyk, though, spent most of the campaign in the minors. General Manager Tim Murray said it was because Pysyk didn’t receive call-up recommendations from the Amerks’ coaching staff. Others suggested Pysyk was kept down so Buffalo wouldn’t lose its shot at a top-two draft pick.
Either way, the No. 1 goal now is winning. Pysyk is in position to help the Sabres do that.
“There’s good energy around, a lot of new talent,” he said. “Guys are excited about the year coming up. I’m excited just as well as everybody.”
Pysyk is in a competition with five other defensemen for three starting jobs. Zach Bogosian, Rasmus Ristolainen and Josh Gorges have a lock on the top three spots. Pysyk is in a group with Weber, Cody Franson, Carlo Colaiacovo, Chad Ruhwedel and Jake McCabe. Newcomers Matt Donovan and Bobby Sanguinetti also have NHL experience.
“We’ve got some big bodies. We’ve got some young talent,” Weber said. “It’s exciting. This organization in one standpoint, we’ve never been lacking in skilled defensemen and depth defensemen. I feel like there’s obviously going to be some guys in the minors that can come up and stand up for us in a heartbeat.
“Our top seven here are going to be tough to play against every night, especially with the game plan that” coach Dan Bylsma “has drawn up for us.”
Bylsma’s system calls for the blue-liners to be aggressive in the rush and make clean passes out of the defensive zone. For the smooth-skating Pysyk, that philosophy is right in his wheelhouse. He had two goals and an assist in seven games with the Sabres last season, and he had three goals and 17 points in 54 games with Rochester.
The fans and organization are ready to find out what Pysyk can do during an entire season in Buffalo.
“I just want to show that I can be steady and consistent,” he said. “It’s a long season and you’ve got to bring it every day. You can’t be a roller coaster. You can’t be really good some games and then just terrible the others.
“You’ve got to bring it every night, and I hope that from here on out I can be consistent.”