by Lisa McRitchie on 10/27/11 at 06:00 PM ET
The Edmonton Oil Kings’ captain Mark Pysyk was drafted in the first round, 23rd overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2010 NHL entry draft after years of hard work with the Oil Kings. After an invite and strong Team Canada camp this summer, the young defenceman even stood a small chance of making the big club this year because he’s been developing quite nicely. Through the Oil Kings’ first 13 games, Pysyk is -1, has 5 assists and 27 penalty minutes. Pysyk now plays every game with the added pressure of knowing that the Sabres are watching him intently, as are the coaching staff of Team Canada. However, being named today to the WHL team of the Subway Super Series which will be played against Russia might relieve some pressure. This tournament is very important to the Team Canada world juniors team selection and is an indication that Team Canada Hockey likes what they see in Pysyk.
Pysyk was the first ever draft pick of the Edmonton Oil Kings, is a local boy and could not only represent his country in Edmonton at the World Juniors, but there is also the chance that he could be the captain even after being cut last year.
The pressure is truly on for Pysyk, but you would never know it when you see the smile on his face. Standing at 6’2” and 188lbs this young man, soon to be 20 years old smiles easily and constantly, quite like the young man who was drafted in the 2007 WHL Bantam draft. Pysyk is in his last year with the Oil Kings, and would love nothing more than to leave on a high note. The key to Pysyk’s season however, at least to him, seems to be to have fun and enjoy his time.
“It was fun playing out there,” Pysyk said of his team’s 8-4 win over the Portland Winterhawks. “We’re fun a fun team to play on, we’ve got a lot of depth, and we’re having fun.”
It’s easy to say you’re having fun when you’re winning and that is what the Oil Kings are doing so far this season. Currently with an 8-3-1 record, the Oil Kings have been at the top of the WHL standings and are reaching to make it back there.
“We’re hoping to get home ice advantage in the first round of playoffs. Hopefully we’re up in the top four by the end of the year, but that’s a long ways away. Right now, we’re just focusing on game in and game out. “ Pysyk says on his team’s goals for the season. After a disappointing playoff loss to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the Red Deer Rebels, these goals seem realistic.
Pysyk was the Oil Kings’ captain last season as well, but as the 20 year old (nearly) on this team, Pysyk knows that there is a specific role he plays. As Pysyk sees it he needs to “Just try to help the young guys. They’re still nervous like I was. I’ve been in their shoes and so just letting them know to be comfortable and to just be with them playing their own game.”
So you never get nervous anymore yourself? “[laughs] No, I get nervous every game, but I just put on a face so I’m not nervous for them.” Really, that’s all anyone can do, put on the confident face and air until you don’t have to try and it comes more naturally.
Overall the Team Canada camp “Was good, lots of fun as well. A lot of guys I hadn’t seen in a while, and kind of hit it off with new guys and made new friends. And also there was the hockey; playing lots of great hockey and great players as well.” It was indeed a full roster, many Canadian greats attended the camp in Edmonton and Fort McMurray this August.
Pysyk didn’t exactly walk away feeling he was a shoe in. “Who knows, it’s still early. It’s always in the back of my mind that I’ve got to play well every night because you just don’t know who’s watching. They’re probably watching every single game every single one of the 17 defencemen at the camp are playing in but I’m still just going to work hard every day in and day out. “
With as seriously as Canada takes their world juniors, and with Vancouver Giant’s head coach Don Hay hoping to regain a gold medal win for his country, you can bet that Pysyk’s play, along with the other hopefuls will be scrutinized.
Despite the fact that the juniors will be hosted by Edmonton and Calgary, Pysyk doesn’t feel any added pressure from his friends and family. “No, my parents are really supportive of me and they understand that there’s a lot of pressure on me. They just try to remember that’s the way I play the game.”
Following the Team Canada camp, it was off to the east and an opportunity with the Buffalo Sabres at the Traverse City prospect Tournament. Pysyk’s thoughts on the experience weren’t too surprising; “It was good, lots of time in Traverse City. Four games there, I think, and it went well and it was fun. We were fortunate enough to win the tournament and it was fun. “
Pysyk’s performance in the tournament garnered him some attention with the Sabres media, but that also has to do with being a first round pick; there is a lot of pressure and expectations that come along with such prestige.
I was able to ask a few players returning to the Oil Kings from NHL camps and prospect tournaments what their NHL teams had provided for feedback or general plans for the year. For Pysyk “We have a website and they give us video throughout the year and things to work on, and a workout program as well. So, really involved in the development throughout the year.”
Yes, the Sabres do seem involved with player development, and it is just slightly different between teams but I like the direction the Oilers are taking. For Oilers’ prospects they are given an individualised plan and the development staff are in continual contact with the players throughout the year.
Pysyk does have some goals for himself this season; “Offence for me, working on my shot. Getting bigger, stronger, it’s a fast game. Even in Traverse City there’s no NHL veterans but the pace is really fast and guys are a lot stronger.”
The prospect tournament in Traverse City was an excellent opportunity to Pysyk to see how he shaped up against other Sabres’ prospects and even some from other teams. Someone Pysyk is accustomed to playing with is his defencive partner Keegan Lowe recently drafted to the Carolina Hurricaines. “We were in Traverse City and talking about its going to suck going back, and you’re not going to go back.. ya, we’re joking around, but it’s good to be back with him.”
There is some familiarity between the two and surely a little competition between them “A little friendly competition I guess, but we’re both supporting each other.” Should both Pysyk and Lowe make it to their draft teams, they will both be playing in the Eastern Conference and that familiarity and friendly competition may change a little but in the meantime it’s good to see them back together with the Oil Kings this season, especially if it may be the last one.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
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