Mark Pysyk figured he was in the Sabres’ plans. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Mark Pysyk surprised by trade from Sabres to Panthers

BUFFALO – Fresh off his first full NHL season, Mark Pysyk figured he was in the Sabres’ long-term plans. With the defenseman skating regular minutes in 55 games, the team improved 27 points, moving from last overall to 23rd.

“I wasn’t really banking on anything happening,” Pysyk told the Times Herald by phone Sunday.

Then Saturday morning, as Pysyk slept, his phone began lighting up with calls and texts. Eventually, his fiancé informed him the Sabres had just traded him to the Florida Panthers for defenseman Dmitry Kulikov at the NHL Draft.

At first, Pysyk, having spent six years with the organization, including the last four as a pro, experienced mixed emotions.

“When I found out what it was all for, I really didn’t know how to react or say or what to think about it,” said Pysyk, the 23rd overall pick in 2010. “A little bit of time (passed), I’m definitely excited about the opportunity in Florida. It is sad to leave Buffalo.”

He added: “Everything I’ve done is obviously because of the Sabres and the organization. I can’t really thank them enough.”

Incredibly, Pysyk, 24, had the third-longest tenure on the Sabres, trailing only wingers Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno.

Pysyk endured a lot of losing during his 125-game run. He made his NHL debut on March 17, 2013, just weeks before former general manager Darcy Regier began tearing apart his veteran club. After 30th-place finishes in 2013-14 and 2014-15 – the Sabres basically stashed him in the AHL with the Rochester Americans that season – he departed with Buffalo poised to secure its first playoff spot since 2011.

“Things are definitely on the way up in Buffalo,” Pysyk said. “It’s going to be an exciting team to watch. It is an exciting team to watch.”

GM Tim Murray coveted a left-handed defenseman to skate on the first or second pair and balance the lefties and righties. Pysyk, a smooth-skating righty drafted by the old regime, was deemed the most expendable.

In trading Pysyk, Murray acknowledged he’s an “analytics darling,” meaning his advanced stats – Corsi, possession time and others – are usually strong. The Panthers, one of NHL’s best young clubs, recently went all in on analytics, overhauling their front office.

“I’m just really excited to head over to Florida,” Pysyk said. “It’s a pretty good opportunity. I don’t think disappointment in there.”

There is, of course, disappointment in leaving so many close friends. The affable Pysyk, who always seems to be smiling, was popular in the dressing room with the Sabres’ young players and veterans.

“That’s the tough part, right?” he said. “Obviously, that’s going to happen, but it is sad to leave a lot of good friends.”

The Sabres on Monday gave qualifying offers to the following restricted free agents: Foligno and forwards Dan Catenacci and Zemgus Girgensons; defensemen Jake McCabe, Casey Nelson and Rasmus Ristolainen; goalie Jason Kasdorf.

The following RFAs did not receive offers: forwards Colin Jacobs, Alex Guptill and Jack Nevins; goalies Nathan Lieuwen and Andrey Makarov.

Only Lieuwen (seven games) and Makarov (one) played in the NHL. Makarov has already signed a KHL deal to play in his native Russia next season.

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