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PERFECT POSITIONING

Photo: Getty Images
12/04/2010 12:02 AM -

Defenseman Logan Pyett hopes being in the right place at the right time will land him a chance to play in the NHL.

Story by Mark Newman

Logan Pyett was proud to join a rather select group of players last season.

The 22-year-old defenseman was the lone Griffin to appear in all 80 games a year ago, making him one of just 18 players in team history to play in every game of the regular season.

That feat is significant for several reasons, starting with the fact that it demonstrates the coach’s confidence by putting him into the lineup on a daily basis. It also underscores his durability, meaning no games were missed because of injury or illness. Finally, it shows his determination to be on the ice day after day.

“It was definitely nice to be in there for all 80 games,” said Pyett, who had been a healthy scratch several times during his rookie pro season in 2008-09, when he appeared in a total of 61 games.

If nothing else, the number of games played increased the opportunities for Pyett to improve his play. When the Detroit Red Wings recalled defensemen Doug Janik and Jakub Kindl last season, it opened the door for Pyett to prove he was capable of raising his game another notch.

“With the added responsibility and added ice time, I had to step up and that’s easier to do when the coaches are confident in you, which in turn helped raise my own confidence,” he said. “It helped me go out there and play my game and not worry about anything else.”

Pyett had struggled during a rough rookie season. Making the jump from junior hockey to the pros can be especially difficult for young defensemen, who too often are caught looking for a place to hide after their mistakes end up in the back of the net.

Looking back, Pyett realizes that he had plenty to learn.

“I knew the hockey was going to be better because the guys are bigger, stronger and faster, but I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I thought I was prepared and came into training camp in decent shape, but my first year was a big learning experience.”

While his rookie season was hardly a disaster, there was plenty of room for improvement. “During your first year, you’re not sure what’s going on,” he said. “You make a couple of mistakes here and there, and then you start questioning yourself.”

Griffiti2F.jpgSo when Griffins head coach Curt Fraser and assistant coach Jim Paek spoke, Pyett paid attention. “They obviously know the game, so I listened and they were able to help my confidence.”

He took their prodding and pointers to heart. Determined to rebound from a less-than-perfect rookie campaign, he looked like a different player when he showed up for the start of last season.

“It was all about the confidence thing for me,” he said. “After my first year, I was better prepared in terms of how to play defensively and be responsible in my own zone, and I think that helped my confidence at the other end of the rink. I was able to jump into the offense and be a lot less worried about making mistakes.”

In essence, Pyett learned that he needed to be more positionally sound in every zone on the ice.

In the offensive zone, it meant keeping his feet moving to give forwards the option of moving to the point. In the neutral zone, he learned to leave gaps so as not to get caught flat-footed and find himself beaten by a fleet-footed forechecker. In the defensive zone, he learned to be in the right spot in order to pressure the puck and take away time and space from opposing forwards.

“Being the size that I am (5-foot-10, 195 pounds), my physical game is not as important,” he said. “Obviously, you want to try to be physical when you can, but for me, it’s all about being in the right place at the right time.”

He watched Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski in camp and on television, observing how the veteran blueliner played in his zone as well as how he pushed the puck up the ice.

“It’s important to move the puck quickly – that’s what my job is supposed to be,” Pyett said. “I need to be moving the puck up to the forwards and joining the rush when I’m able. I have to become smarter with and without the puck.”

The results spoke for themselves – he more than doubled his point production and increased his goals from three during his rookie season to a total of nine last year. He hopes to further boost those numbers this season.

“You always want to improve on your production from one year to the next, but the main goal is to help the team make the playoffs,” he said. “Sure, I’d like to get 10 or more goals and at least 30 points, but if the team is winning, those goals aren’t so important.”

In reality, the one statistic to which Pyett pays particular attention is his plus-minus rating. The stat measures the team’s goal differential when a specific player is on the ice for even-strength or shorthanded goals.

Pyett, who had a plus-7 rating last season, has started 2010-11 in negative territory. “As a collective five (players), if you’re above that even number, you’re probably doing something right,” he said. “I’d like to always be a plus player.”

His success last season drew the attention of the Red Wings’ brass, who rewarded his play by making him a “black ace” during the first round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“It was a fantastic experience,” Pyett said. “Just being able to watch and listen during that first round was a great learning experience. It puts you in the position where you know the program should they ever decide to bring you up. Plus, it was great for my confidence.”

Pyett certainly hopes a Detroit call-up is in his future, but he knows he will have to be patient. Having watched Kindl and Jonathan Ericsson pay their dues in Grand Rapids, he knows the Red Wings are planning for him to follow a similar route.

“I’m just trying to bide my time from here and learn as much as I can, so I can hopefully make that step if they need me,” he said. “I know it won’t be easy and there’s still a lot of learning to be done if I want to get myself prepared.”

So he spends time on and off the ice, doing the little things that he hopes will increase his chances – whether it’s working out in the summer back home in Saskatchewan with Logan Stephenson of the Adirondack Phantoms and Tim Spencer of the Binghamton Senators, or listening to tips offered by recently retired defenseman Chris Chelios in his new role as a Red Wings advisor.

“I have to do everything I can to convince Detroit to give me a shot,” Pyett said.

In other words, his positioning must be perfect.



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