SUNRISE, Fla. – In one of the first big splashes of what would eventually become an astounding tidal wave of activity this offseason, the Florida Panthers acquired puck-moving defenseman Mark Pysyk in a draft day trade with the Buffalo Sabres on June 25.
“We’ve liked him all along,” Panthers General Manager Tom Rowe said of Pysyk. “Looking at the numbers on him, the possession numbers are unbelievable. He’s a real good skater, big guy, can move the puck.”
A first-round pick (23rd overall) of the Sabres in the 2010 NHL Draft, the 24-year-old Pysyk has recorded 26 points (5-21-26) in 125 career games all with Buffalo. When looking at advanced analytics, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound rearguard was also one the best possession-driving rearguards on the Sabres last season, leading the team with a 51.3 percent Corsi rating and a 4.9 Corsi Relative at even strength, according to PuckAlytics.com.
Recently, Pysyk sat down with FloridaPanthers.com’s Jameson Olive to discuss his initial thoughts on moving to South Florida, a unique pre-game ritual, the proper pronunciation of his last name, and much, much more!
OLIVE: What were your initial thoughts when you heard that you had been traded to the Panthers?
PYSYK: I was obviously shocked about the trade. I didn’t really see that coming, but once I found out that it was Florida, I immediately got pretty excited. I’ve looked at the team and it’s a pretty nice city to live in from what I’ve heard. I’m feeling nothing but excitement now.
OLIVE: The trade that brought you to South Florida was actually one of many moves the Panthers made this offseason in order to bring the team closer to a championship. What were you thinking as you watched all theses moves go down only a few weeks after joining the team?
PYSYK: It sort of jump-started everything, didn’t it? With all the signings and a couple more trades in the weeks since the draft. I think it’s pretty cool to be a part of something that’s moving in the right direction like that. I’m really looking forward to getting things going.
OLIVE: You set career marks in games played (55) and points (11) last season. How do you plan on building off those numbers and what are your goals for the upcoming season?
PYSYK: I’m just going to try to get into every game. I want to play 82 – that’s obviously the first one for me. I’m not looking too much at numbers, but rather just playing with more confidence than I did last year. I hopefully can contribute a little more on the offense as well.
OLIVE: Speaking of numbers, the one term that always seems to be attached to your name is “puck-possession player.” As advanced analytics continue to play a larger role in hockey, what does a description like that mean to you?
PYSYK: A lot of the reporters always bring that up. I try not to look at that that too much. Like you said, possession numbers are definitely new and coming into the game more and more. If you can have positive numbers for the new stuff that’s coming in, then that’s obviously something that you want to be doing. Hopefully I can continue that in Florida.
OLIVE: One person helping you this season will be former Sabres assistant coach Dave Barr, who was hired by the Panthers as an associate coach on June 7. How nice will it be to have a familiar face behind the bench in the upcoming season?
PYSYK: Oh yeah, definitely. Going to a new team is different for me. I hadn’t done it in my whole junior career or my whole professional career up until now. It’s going to be a little bit weird and different, but having that familiar face will definitely help me.
OLIVE: Having only lived in colder climates such as Edmonton and Buffalo your whole life, what are your thoughts on playing hockey in balmy South Florida?
PYSYK: I’m pretty excited. It’ll be definitely different and weird to not have any snow in the wintertime, but I think that’ll be all right [laughs].
OLIVE: What excites you most about joining this up-and-coming Panthers team?
PYSYK: I think that’s just it. It is a group of guys on the rise and there are quite a few young players. Just looking at the way they played the past year and how successful they were, it’s exciting to see and exciting to be a part of that younger-sort-of group on the way up.
OLIVE: You mentioned the young guys, but there’s also one very prominent old guy on the team. What are your thoughts on playing alongside 44-year-old legend Jaromir Jagr?
PYSYK: That’s going to be pretty special. He’s one of the legends of the game. After people found out that I got traded to Florida that was usually the first question that they would ask. I’m extremely excited. It’s going to be pretty cool.
OLIVE: What’s the game plan for your first meeting? Are you going to approach him or are you going to wait for him to approach you?
PYSYK: I don’t know. I’m pretty shy guy, usually, so I don’t know if I’ll be approaching anybody [laughs].
OLIVE: Jagr has earned a reputation around the league for his abundance of quirks and superstitions. Do you have any unique pre-game rituals that fans should start getting accustomed to hearing about?
PYSYK: Hmm, nothing really. The only thing I can think of is that I get dressed with everything on my left side first -- left skate, left gloves, left shin pads. Other than that, I can’t really think of anything. Although, if we have a good game or we win, I’ll try to wear the exact same suit and tie combination. So if we go on a long win streak this season, it could get a little bit greasy, but that’s all right [laughs].
OLIVE: How long have you been doing that left-side routine before games?
PYSYK: As long as I can remember that’s what I’ve been doing, probably since midget or bantam hockey.
OLIVE: Speaking of routines, what are a couple of bands that frequent your workout playlist?
PYSYK: I’m not a big music guy. I just listen to whatever the radio’s got. It’s usually on the country saltation, so that’s pretty much all I got.
OLIVE: So no one has to worry about you fighting for control of the iPod in the locker room after practice?
PYSYK: Oh, no. Oh god, no. [laughs]
OLIVE: What is your favorite activity outside of hockey?
PYSYK: I really like to golf. I also like some watersports like wake surfing and water skiing and just being out on the lake.
OLIVE: Are you planning on arriving to training camp a little bit early to get in a few extra rounds of golf before the season starts?
PYSYK: Yeah, I think so. I think I’ll be down a little bit before training camp to workout with some of the guys and skate. It’ll help me get accustomed to being down there in the heat.
OLIVE: I’ll get you out of here on a question that I know fans are dying to know the answer to: How many different ways have you heard people pronounce Pysyk (Peh-sick) over the years?
PYSYK: That’s a good one! I’ve heard it pronounced lots of ways -- lots and lots.
OLIVE: Is there any one in particular that sticks out?
PYSYK: There was one time where I heard it pronounced as “Psych.” It was at some minor hockey arena. I think I probably got a penalty and they said “Mark Psych.” I couldn’t understand how they got that, but I thought it was kind of funny.
OLIVE: So you’ll forgive fans if it takes them a few tries to get it down?
PYSYK: Oh yeah, you can call me whatever you want. It doesn’t bother me [laughs].