Oil Kings’ Pysyk makes career of firsts

He was their first ever Western Hockey League bantam draft pick. This past June, he became the first Edmonton Oil King to ever go in the first round of the National Hockey League draft when he was selected by the Buffalo Sabres, 23rd overall.

He was their first ever Western Hockey League bantam draft pick.

This past June, he became the first Edmonton Oil King to ever go in the first round of the National Hockey League draft when he was selected by the Buffalo Sabres, 23rd overall.

This past week, he attended Canada’s world junior evaluation camp, marking the first step in making Canada’s roster this December.

If he cracks that lineup, the 18-year-old smooth skating defenceman will be the first Oil King to make Canada’s world junior team.

Yet, Mark Pysyk has kind of flown under the radar in Alberta’s capital when it comes to all the talk in this city.

If it had been any other year, all eyes would have been on Pysyk, but it just so happened that the Edmonton Oilers owned the first overall pick and selected Windsor Spitfires sniper Taylor Hall.

Despite all the Hall hoopla surrounding these parts, Pysyk has treated it as a bit of a blessing.

“Everyone loves the Oilers and they want to know everything about the Oilers. I haven’t really noticed flying under the radar, but if I have, I think it’s helped me . . . it’s been beneficial,” said Pysyk this week after returning home from the grueling world junior camp.

“It’s allowed me to just go about my business. I was able to enjoy the draft with my family and we were all able to reflect on my special day. It was something I was looking forward to since I was a kid.”

Pysyk has been the face of the Oil Kings since Day 1 of the franchise’s history.

The Oil Kings are entering their fourth year in the WHL. Off the ice, the team has battled to try and find their niche in the Edmonton market.

While similar teams like Calgary and Vancouver have established themselves as powerhouse WHL franchises, the Oil Kings are trying to get to that level themselves.

It took time for Calgary and Vancouver to reach their potential in their respective cities, but ultimately it wasn’t until the teams starting winning that they began to flourish.

It starts on the ice, and while the team has made the playoffs just once in their first three seasons, general manager Bob Green has built a strong young base of players that should take the next step forward on the ice this season.

“Making the playoffs is the big goal for us,” said Pysyk.

“It starts with winning. We want to establish ourselves as a top tier team in the WHL, and it’s up to me to be a leader on this team.”

It’s been a whirlwind year for Pysyk that’s been filled with some ups and downs. He was able to establish himself as one of the WHL’s top defenceman, but he also had to deal with a season-ending injury that limited him to 48 games.

“Not being able to play half the season in the biggest year of my hockey career was certainly tough, but it was something that I couldn’t dwell on,” said Pysyk.

“Going through something like that makes you mentally stronger. This year has been so memorable for me. I’ve been able to live out my childhood dream of getting drafted, and that is one of my first goals of many that I want to accomplish.”

Pysyk did his best to make a good impression at the Team Canada orientation camp this past week.

He has international experience, having suited up with Canadian teams at the under-18 and under-17 levels.

But the World Junior Championship is a whole other stage. Everybody stops what they’re doing around the Christmas holidays to watch the tournament.

It’s become a tradition.

Seeing the trail he’s leaving throughout his Oil Kings career, it would only be fitting that Pysyk be the first to suit up for Canada at the world juniors this December.

“It’s incredible to be at the first in anything,” said Pysyk. “To be their (Oil Kings) first bantam pick was a huge honour. Getting drafted in the first round (of the NHL draft) was overwhelming enough and to and to be the first from your team is incredible.

“To be the first Oil King to play for Canada at the world juniors would make it all the more special.”

Jason Hills is an Edmonton-based freelance writer whose column appears every second Wednesday in the Advocate