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NOTEBOOK: Pysyk's Valuable Versatility; Trocheck Back at Practice

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

10/26/19 Practice

10/26/19 Practice

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville, forward Frank Vatrano and defenseman Mark Pysyk.

  • 01:50 •

In today's Baptist Health Practice Notebook, Mark Pysyk talks about moving up from the blue line to forward, Vincent Trocheck returns to practice and the Panthers prepare for the Oilers.

EDMONTON - Mark Pysyk can barely recall the last time he played as a forward.

"I think I was something like seven or eight," he said, cracking a big smile. "It's been a little different. It's obviously not how I drew it up this summer coming in, but I've doing everything I can up front and on the back end. Whenever I'm in [the lineup], I'm just trying to do my job."

In the very early stages of this season, Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville has been experimenting quite a bit with Pysyk, a defenseman throughout his entire junior and professional hockey career, deploying the veteran as a forward in three of the five games that he's played in.

Quenneville said that when he initially inserted Pysyk onto the team's third line as a right winger during a home matchup against the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 18, the plan was for him to be used more as seventh defenseman, a reserve in case another blueliner had to miss a few shifts.

Not long into the game, however, the legendary coach realized he might have found something.

Taking the ice for 7:18 against the Avalanche, Pysyk looked like anything but a fish out of water in his new spot, firing off three shots on goal and swiping up a pair of pucks for two takeaways.

"All of the sudden, he earned it," Quenneville said. "You're comfortable with him in any situation up front… It's been terrific. He's played three games, and he looks like he belongs up there."

Quenneville said that he believes Pysyk's most valuable asset as a forward is something that you'd expect to see from a career blueliner - a strong defensive-minded approach to the game.

"It's a situation where he's got some quickness, he's got some good instincts, "Quenneville said. "As a defenseman, you're always thinking the defensive side of things. It gives us simplicity of putting the puck in right areas and making those plays where we can sustain possession and keep himself in the play. I think he brings a little reliability that we've been looking for from him."

Lining up alongside Frank Vatrano and Denis Malgin, Pysyk has spent a total of 31:33 at as a forward at 5-on-5 in three games this season. According to NaturalStatTrick.com, when that unit has been on the ice, they've yet to allow a single goal while owning a 14-12 advantage in shots.

Pysyk was also playing up front when he netted his first goal of the season during Thursday's 6-5 shootout loss in Calgary, helping the Panthers extend their point streak to seven games with a late goal from near to the top of the left circle that put Florida up 5-4 with 5:01 left in regulation. 

Video: FLA@CGY: Pysyk puts Panthers ahead in 3rd

"It was good to get a goal," said Pysyk. "I didn't see it go in until I skated by [the goaltender]."

Like the rest of the team, Vatrano has been impressed by Pysyk's transition.

"He's been a whole lot of fun to play with," Vatrano said. "He's a great guy off the ice. He likes to keep it loos a little bit. It's great to have a guy to keep things like that. On the ice, you know what you're going to get from him. He's going to get the pucks in, he's going to get the pucks out. It's good to play with him. He plays hard. It was good to see him get rewarded with that goal."

Used to playing around 18 minutes a game as a defenseman, Pysyk, who's averaged around 10 minutes a night as a forward, said one of the biggest adjustments he's had to make during these past few games has had more to do with his preparation rather than any on-ice reads.

"There's a lot more forwards, so you don't play as regular shifts," said Pysyk, who took 16 shifts against the Flames. "When you're sitting there, and then you're called up, you've got to go from sitting on the bench to 100 miles per hour again. For me, that was likely the most difficult part."

During Saturday's practice at Rogers Place, Pysyk was back at his natural position and paired with Anton Stralman on the blue line. And although he could play forward again at some point, Quenneville said that he plans to use him a defenseman against the speedy Oilers on Sunday.

Overall, no matter where he's playing, Pysyk's eager to do whatever his coach asks of him.

"I think everybody's buying into everything he says," said Pysyk, an Edmonton native. "Everybody wants to work hard for him. No matter what he says, we'll go out and do it."

TROCHECK IN YELLOW

Vincent Trocheck returned to practice today wearing a yellow no-contact jersey.

Florida's second-line center has been out of action since suffering a lower-body injury during a 3-2 shootout win in Nashville on Oct. 19. In that game, he left briefly after blocking a shot in the first period, but returned to earn one assist and score the game-winner in the skills competition.

Quenneville said Trocheck is unlikely to play in tomorrow night's matchup against the Oilers, but could potentially return to the lineup during either of the team's final two games on the road trip.

"Troch was feeling OK," he said. "I'm going to say very doubtful for tomorrow, but we play on Monday [in Vancouver] and then in Colorado [on Wednesday]. We're looking at those options."

After missing 27 games last season due to lower-body injury, Trocheck has looked no worse for wear to start the season. In the eight games he's played in, the 26-year-old has tallied one goal and six assists and also averaged the second-most ice time (19:28) among the team's forwards.

PREPARING FOR EDMONTON

Quenneville knows the Panthers will face a tough test tomorrow night in Edmonton.

Off to an 8-2-1 start and currently occupying first place in the Pacific Division, the Oilers boast the two top-scoring forwards in the NHL in Connor McDavid (20 points) and Leon Draisaitl (19). In six career games against Florida, McDavid has posted five goals and eight assists.

"He's an amazing player," Quenneville said of McDavid, who won the Hart Trophy in 2017. "He has high-end speed, skill and talent. You've got to be aware of him on the ice. As a tandem there with Draisaitl, it's a special line. You've got to make sure that you try and deny them off the rush and make an awareness of having those guys spend a lot of time in your zone."

For the Panthers, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov will look to match the offensive output from Edmonton's top-two stars. Barkov is currently tied for third in the league in assists (12), including a game-high four on Thursday in Calgary. Huberdeau, meanwhile, is tied with Barkov for the team-lead in points (12) and also locked in a three-way tie for the most goals (5).

Florida owned a 1-0-1 record against the Oilers in 2018-19.

"No matter what team we play against or whatever the score is, we can play the game," Vatrano said. "We know we can score a lot of goals in this room with the talent that we have. I think the biggest thing with us is to just keep that puck out of our net and not think too much offense."

SATURDAY'S PRACTICE LINES

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov

Mike Hoffman - Brian Boyle - Brett Connolly

Frank Vatrano - Denis Malgin - Jayce Hawryluk

Dryden Hunt - Noel Acciari - Colton Sceviour

Defensemen

MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad

Mark Pysyk - Anton Stralman

Keith Yandle - Josh Brown

Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky Sam Montembeault

Extras: Vincent Trocheck (no-contact), Riley Stillman

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