In what is normally a dream scenario for Amerks fans (at least for those who don’t care about hockey outside Rochester), the Buffalo Sabres season is over, they’ve missed the playoffs, and the Amerks have received back as much help as they can for an AHL playoff run.
Matt Hackett won’t play again this season following a knee injury that likely requires surgery.
Nathan Lieuwen’s return is questionable due to a concussion (at least his third).
Andrey Makarov will re-inherit the starting goaltending job until/unless Lieuwen comes back.
Connor Knapp will be the backup goaltender.
Jeff Deslauriers will add some scoring and toughness up front.
Chad Ruhwedel has begun skating, and may return from his concussion before the playoffs start. His two-way play is a big plus for Amerks D.
Rasmus Ristolainen brings his big reach back to the blueline, with some offensive flair and big hitting.
But most importantly, Mark Pysyk brings his quiet, steady play back to the defensive corps.
And Pysyk’s unremarkable play will be the key to this team’s success.
There’s a saying about defensemen in hockey: “If you don’t notice them on the ice, it’s because they’re doing their job well.”
Mark Pysyk is never going to be a high scoring defenseman. He did manage to hit 38 and 40 points a couple of times in juniors, but those aren’t spectacular numbers. He’s maybe a 30 point defenseman in the AHL, and probably a 15 point guy in the NHL.
He’s not particularly big at 6’1, 195lbs. Its a good size for a defenseman, but he’s not towering out there.
He won’t throw the biggest hits (but he can he needs to).
But his intangibles will get you. They are, well, immeasurable. (Unless someone is keeping “advanced stats” for the AHL, which I have yet to find).
When other top players were out of the Amerks lineup, Pysyk was pushing 30 minutes of ice time on some nights. It takes a lot of trust for a coach to give one player so much playing itme.
When the Amerks recently went on a 9-game losing streak, Pysyk was on the ice for only the first 2 games of that streak. The next 7 happened while he was on recall to Buffalo. During that stretch, the Amerks fell out of a playoff spot.
When Pysyk was re-assigned back to Rochester, the team immediately embarked on a 5-game winning streak against quality teams like Binghamton and Toronto. The Amerks are now back into a playoff spot that is all but locked in.
The 22 year old defenseman was captain of the Edmonton Oil Kings for 2 seasons, taking them to the Memorial Cup his last season.
And lastly, the Sabres like him enough that he saw time in 44 NHL games this season.
There’s nothing flashy about his game, but he’s the type of player that will lead by example. He knows the limits of his game and plays within them without trying to do too much.
On a team that is likely to have a rookie goalie leading them thru the playoffs, Mark Pysyk is precisely the kind of steadying force that the Amerks need on their blueline.