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Pyatt finding comfort zone with Bolts

by Mark Pukalo / Tampa Bay Lightning

There are no statistics for some of the best things Tom Pyatt can do on the ice.

Pyatt, signed as a free agent by the Lightning on July 6, provides solid, positional defense, makes composed plays with the puck and doesn't take penalties. At 5-foot-11, 187 pounds, the 24-year-old forward wins more than his share of battles along the wall with crafty work.

"It's because he's relentless," said Lightning coach Guy Boucher, who also coached Pyatt with Hamilton of the American Hockey League. "He just never stops. If it doesn't work one way, he'll try the other way, he'll spin around. He's really good at being annoying and in your face. I love it."

Pyatt has always been ready to battle, growing up in the hockey hotbed of Thunder Bay, Ontario, on the northwest shore of Lake Superior and under an hour from the Minnesota border.

Thunder Bay is not only where David Letterman's band leader Paul Shaffer grew up, it is the home of several NHL players past and present including the Staal brothers -- Jordan, Eric and Marc. Patrick Sharp, former Lightning forward Ryan Johnson and Tom's older brother Taylor, who plays for the Phoenix Coyotes, are also products of Thunder Bay.

"I'm proud to be from Thunder Bay," Pyatt said. "It's nice going back in the summer to see everyone. We have a good minor hockey association and a lot of guys had outdoor rinks. That was a huge thing for us. We were on the outdoor rink every day. If you are on the ice four hours every day, that adds up and it makes a difference in your development."

Pyatt's father Nelson had 134 points in 296 NHL games with the Detroit Red Wings, Washington Capitals and Colorado Rockies. He had a combined 49 goals in the 1975-76 and 76-77 seasons.

Nelson started building an outdoor rink near the family's house when the oldest of his three sons Jesse, now 33, started on skates. Tom said he kept it going for about the next two decades. A bright street light illuminated the approximate 50-by-100 foot rink, with full boards on the ends and half boards on the side. It was not a big neighborhood, but Tom said they would put together games from time to time.

"I even put on the goalie pads," Tom said.

Pyatt played his youth hockey with the Thunder Bay Kings AAA program, where Jesse is now an assistant coach. Tom was drafted by the Saginaw Spirit and played four seasons in the Ontario Hockey League. Pyatt produced 43 goals and 81 points in his final year in 2006-07 and won the OHL's most sportsmanlike player award. He also played for Team Canada in the Under-18 World Championships in 2005 and the World Juniors in 2006 and 07.

The New York Rangers selected Pyatt 107th overall in 2005 and he was signed to a three-year entry-level contract in 2007, playing one AHL game at the end of that season. He was later dealt to Montreal in the Scott Gomez trade in June of 2009.

Pyatt played for Boucher with Hamilton in 2009-10 before being called up to play 58 games for Montreal, including 18 in the playoffs as the Canadiens reached the Eastern Conference finals. Pyatt contributed two goals, two assists and 26 shots in the post season.

After playing 61 games last season in the NHL, Pyatt became an unrestricted free agent when Montreal failed to make a qualifying offer. Tampa Bay quickly became a good option with Boucher at the helm.

"That was a big part of my decision," Pyatt said. "Any time you go to a new team, it's good to be familiar with something. If you are familiar with the system, that's a huge thing. I know how he wants his players to play. That made the transition a lot easier for me. I had some interest from other teams and I found this to be the best spot for me."

Pyatt has been playing a lot with Nate Thompson and Adam Hall on a line that slowed the Matt Moulson-John Tavares-P.A. Parenteau trio in the 4-1 victory over the Islanders Oct. 20. He scored his first point for his new team at Buffalo Oct. 25 with an assist in the 4-3 victory at Buffalo. He has also been prominent on a penalty-killing unit that is 13-for-13 the last five games.

In Montreal, Pyatt played a lot on the wing. He has been a center much of his playing life.

"Whatever is needed," Pyatt said. "I'm confident in all positions."

One thing Pyatt would like to improve is his offensive numbers. He has 13 points in 108 NHL games.

"I want to be strong defensively, but I would like to chip in more offense," Pyatt said. "That's something I want to keep working on. I know I have it in me."

Pyatt has seven hits in seven games, but you have to watch him play to see his value on the defensive end of the ice.

"Defense is not something you teach," Pyatt said. "All it is really is hard work, committing to it and wanting to do it. I take pride in it."

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