In today's Baptist Health Practice Notebook, Mark Pysyk is ready to continue his new role, Evgenii Dadonov is eager to make his NHL playoff debut, and Owen Tippet is taking it all in.
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - "The Hybrid" is fully charged and ready for another road trip.
After making the successful transition from defenseman to forward - a position he hadn't played since his pee-wee hockey days - earlier this season, Mark Pysyk admits that he was more than a little excited to slot back in on the fourth line when the Florida Panthers opened training camp.
Prior to camp, the 28-year-old had been pulling double duty for about a month during the team's small-group workouts that began with Phase 2 of the NHL's "Return to Play Plan" in early June.
"It's good," Pysyk said following Wednesday's practice at the Panthers IceDen. "We had a few weeks of skating here [during Phase 2]. I was jumping on forward some drills, [defense] in some. But then once we got here, [I've been] playing with Skeeter [Colton Sceviour] and Noel [Acciari]. It was good to get back with them and jump in that role before all this happened."
The origins of Pysyk's evolution from man to eco-friendly machine can be traced back to October.
Heading into a matchup against the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 18, Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville made the decision to deploy Pysyk on the team's fourth line with the intention being that he would be a seventh defenseman, a reserve in case another blueliner had to miss a shift. But what started as a one-game experiment soon evolved into something far bigger.
From that point on, Pysyk bounced back and forth between two different roles before finally settling into a full-time position up front. With this transition, the laidback veteran also saw a spike in his offensive numbers, including netting a career-high nine goals in 58 games played.
"It's been definitely different," said Pysyk, who spent his first seven seasons in the NHL on the blue line. "Looking into this season, that's not how I saw it going. But there was an opportunity where a couple guys were sick and out of the lineup. It just sort of started from there and it's kept going. I've enjoyed myself. I've enjoyed doing it. It's been a good challenge."
Of his nine goals, three came over the course of one unforgettable night in Canada. Finishing with the first hat trick of his NHL career, Pysyk found the back of the net not one, not two, but three times - including a gritty empty-netter with less than a minute left - to help lead the Panthers to a huge 5-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Feb. 3.
"I still don't really believe that it happened," Pysyk said.
While he still might be pinching himself from time to time, Pysyk will likely be counted on quite a bit during the postseason. And although he's now forward, it's his work on defense that excites Quenneville the most because he has insights into "what forwards should be thinking out there."
"I can't say enough about how hard he's worked on this process in camp," Quenneville said. "Every day he comes with the right attitude. He's excited and enjoys the game. He's having fun." No matter what position he's playing, Pysyk, who endured a few healthy scratches early on in the second before discovering his new role, is willing to do whatever it takes crack the lineup.
"It's definitely a lot more fun playing than sitting and watching," Pysyk said. "Forward? Defense? Whatever it is, being in the lineup is a lot of fun."
DADONOV EXCITED FOR POSTSEASON DEBUT
Evgenii Dadonov doesn't care what it's called.
To him, this is going to be his NHL playoff debut.
Despite competing in 68 playoff games overseas in the KHL, the 28-year-old winger is excited to finally get his first taste of what the postseason is like in the NHL when the Panthers open their best-of-five series against the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Aug. 1.
"We have a good opportunity," said Dadonov, a native of Chelyabinsk, Russia. "I'm actually really excited to get a taste of the playoffs. Even if it's a play-in round, it's already playoffs."
An effective goal-scorer ever since he returned from a five-season stint in the KHL to sign with Florida as a free agent prior to the start of the 2017-18 campaign, Dadonov is slated to start the series on the right side of the team's top line alongside Aleksander Barkov and Frank Vatrano.
"I think the line works good," said Dadonov, who has developed some noticeable chemistry with Barkov on the top line over the past few seasons. "Everybody's on the same page. We're talking. We communicate with each other. Everything is how it's supposed to be."
Over the past three seasons, Dadonov ranks second on the Panthers with 81 goals.
"I think Dads gives us a dimension with his quickness and his speed and his versatility on the rush," Quenneville said of Dadonov, who ranked second on the team with 25 goals this season. "I think on the power play he's really effective as well. His quickness can really back teams off."
TIPPETT TAKING IT ALL IN
Owen Tippett is living life as part sniper, part sponge right now.
The 10th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, the 21-year-old forward has been working primarily with Florida's "Black Aces" during training camp, a small group of up-and-coming prospects that also features fellow rookies such as Eetu Luostarinen, Chase Priskie and Sam Montembeault.
"Obviously any time you get a chance like this it's a great opportunity to just take it all in and learn from it," Tippett said. "Coming off what I thought was a good year for myself in Springfield, when you come up here you just take an opportunity to be a sponge again and take it all in."
Making the jump from juniors up into the professional ranks this season, Tippett appeared to take a big step forward in his development. Despite being limited to just 46 games due to an upper-body injury, he still managed to lead Florida's AHL affiliate in goals (19) and points (40).
And although he still appears to be on the outside looking in at a spot among the team's initial starting forwards heading into the postseason, Tippett has had a chance to put his skills to the test and impress coaches when the "Black Aces" have joined the bigger group for scrimmages.
Tippett said those sessions allow him to obtain a "judgment of where you're at."
"It gives you a chance to see where you're at personally," Tippett said of participating in the intrasquad battles, of which there have been three of so far. "Any time you get a chance to skate with, like you said, the big boys, and be a part of the big group, you feel more a part of it."
During Tuesday's scrimmage, Tippett scored a nice tap-in goal from in front of the net.
"Tipp had a real good day today," Quenneville said afterwards. "He had a good pace, made some nice plays and went to the net hard. It looked like we had more pace across the board."
After making his NHL debut and suiting up in seven games for the Panthers at the outset of the 2017-18 campaign, Tippett has been eagerly awaiting to get back in Florida's lineup ever since. Until then, all he can do is stay as ready as possible for when his number's finally called.
"No one knows what the near future is going to look like," Tippett said. "Anyone has to stay ready and, mentally, just go at it like it's any other day at the rink. Like you said, it's not the start of the season, but everyone's in the same position. You've just got to stay ready."
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