People have always praised Mark Pysyk’s hockey IQ, so it’s no surprise he knew something was up during the offseason.
“I thought something was going to happen – not necessarily me, but I thought somebody was going to get moved,” Pysyk said Friday. “When I found out it was me, it was a little bit of a shock.”
Buffalo’s busy draft weekend included trading the defenseman to Florida in a deal that brought Dmitry Kulikov to the Sabres. Pysyk is back for the first time and will face the Sabres on Saturday afternoon in KeyBank Center.
“This is where I started my career, so nothing but good things to say about the organization,” Pysyk said after practice. “It was a little bit weird, but it’s good to be back.”
Pysyk, the Sabres’ first-round pick in 2010, spent 125 games with Buffalo. It hasn’t taken him long to settle in with the Panthers. He’s paired with longtime friend Alex Petrovic and has one goal and a plus-2 rating in seven games.
“The fresh start has been good so far, and I’m definitely enjoying the place,” Pysyk said. “We’ve got some good skaters back there and can do the job and play defense pretty well. We’ve been jelling as a group of seven, and it’s been fun.”
Pysyk never found a steady role in the Sabres’ defense corps, which is why General Manager Tim Murray was willing to ship him to Florida. Pysyk has averaged 15:13 of ice time this year after getting 15:54 in 55 games with Buffalo last season. The 24-year-old will get a chance to show what his skating and passing skills can do against his old team.
“It’s going to be weird for me, but it’s a team, so we need to come and beat the Sabres,” Pysyk said. “We lost the last two, so we need to get back on the right track here.”
Kulikov, meanwhile, is gaining his footing after getting hurt during the preseason. He is averaging 21:38 of ice time in five games. He is minus-2 while looking for his first point.
The 25-year-old may find the game even stranger than Pysyk will. He spent seven seasons and 460 games with the Panthers.
“Playing for them for so many years and now being on the opposite side, it’ll definitely be weird,” Kulikov said. “A lot of friends, a lot of good relationships that I built there. I had a great time in Florida, but it’s all over now. I’m focused only on the Buffalo Sabres right now, getting a win, getting our team back on track with a win.”
Jack Eichel has given his walking boot the boot. That doesn’t mean he’s close to returning.
Eichel, who suffered a high-ankle sprain Oct. 12, walked through the arena without his scooter and walking boot. He still has a brace on the left ankle. He’s only 2½ weeks into an injury that typically lasts six to eight weeks.
Evander Kane (cracked ribs) was also at the arena. It’s possible he may start cardio work next week, but he’s not expected back until mid-November.
The Sabres are changing their second power-play unit. Right wing Hudson Fasching replaced center Derek Grant, joining holdovers Brian Gionta, Tyler Ennis, Cody Franson and Kulikov.
“For me it’s just take away the goalie’s eyes, retrieve pucks, just try and help out the best I can, try to keep the play going, just kind of assist the other guys,” Fasching said. “Those guys are going to be making the plays. For me, it’s just to make it easier for them.”
NHL legend Jaromir Jagr will face the Sabres for the 88th time. He has 46 goals, 58 assists and 104 points against Buffalo.
The 44-year-old has one goal and four points in seven games this season. The goal was the 750th of his career.
“It’s awesome,” Pysyk said. “Being in that game, that’s something you can remember for as long as you live that you were there and had a good seat for that.”