Mark Pysyk: Edmonton’s unheralded star

Hockey Canada has had their eyes fixated on Mark Pysyk, ever since he stepped onto the ice as a 16-year-old rookie for the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Hockey Canada has had their eyes fixated on Mark Pysyk, ever since he stepped onto the ice as a 16-year-old rookie for the Edmonton Oil Kings.

He wore the maple leaf for the World U-17 Hockey Challenge and then again at the Ivan Hlinka tournament.

The impact he’s made with the Oil Kings is undeniable. He’s been the face of the franchise ever since he was their first bantam draft selection in 2007. This is his first year as their captain.

He’s dealt with that pressure and managed to be one of the top defencemen in the WHL for the past three years.

Pysyk gained the attention of National Hockey League scouts last season and was selected in the first round of the 2010 NHL draft by the Buffalo Sabres.

But on Monday, he received the biggest invitation any junior hockey player can dream of.

He earned an opportunity to attend the national junior team selection camp for the 2011 World Junior tournament.

What makes it even more special is this year’s tournament is in Buffalo. If he makes the squad, he’ll give Buffalo Sabres fans a chance to see him play where he one day hopes to embark on an NHL career.

He’s still eligible next season to play in the World Junior tournament. If he was to play, it would be another unique opportunity as both Edmonton and Calgary are hosting the 2012 tournament.

Talk about pressure!

The demands these kids face as they put everything they have on the line to represent their country is daunting. Over the last decade, the world junior tournament has captivated the nation. Partly because of Canada’s dominance in the tournament over the last several years, but for many of these junior aged players, they begin the tournament as kids, but come away from it as men.

The story lines and the drama seem to rise to the forefront every holiday season.

For Pysyk, this is his first chance to make the Canada’s world junior roster.

This year’s team is likely to feature very few returnees.

Only three — and all three are defenceman. Ryan Ellis, Jared Cowen and Calvin de Haan all played for Canada’s silver medal winning squad last tournament, and will most likely be back this year.

Team Canada head coach Dave Cameron will take seven defenceman, so that will likely leave just four spots open for Pysyk.

If you compared all of the defenceman solely by their numbers they’ve put up this year, Pysyk has the lowest total with eight (0g, 8a).

But numbers are just numbers. Pysyk is so much more to the Oil Kings this season than his point totals would suggest.

He’s taken highly touted rookie defenceman Griffin Reinhart under his wing, and helped his game progress. His defensive game has become notably stronger.

The Sherwood Park native has the ability to quarterback a power play and also play a shutdown role.

In my mind, he would be a perfect fit for Team Canada as one of their shutdown defenceman.

He’s proven that he can play that way effectively.

During the top prospects game last year he and defenceman Brandon Gormley were taken to task by the legendary Bobby Orr to shut down Taylor Hall on that night.

As a result, Hall had a notably quiet game and finished with just one assist.

At times I feel the work that Pysyk has done in an Oil Kings jersey hasn’t got the attention it deserves from his hometown fans.

He’s quietly gone about his business with the Oil Kings and made his mark with the WHL’s newest franchise accomplishing many personal feats while many Edmonton hockey fans may not even recognize him if they passed him on the street.

Thankfully Hockey Canada has done their part in recognizing him.

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