By Bob Crawford
The Connecticut Whale’s Logan Pyett has always been a defenseman throughout his pro career, and thinks of himself as such.
He has also always been a productive source of offense from the backline, though, having put up 145 points in 288 career AHL games with the Grand Rapids Griffins prior to joining the Whale, and having led Connecticut blueliners in points for most of this season.
Mindful of that offensive acumen, the Whale coaching staff moved Pyett up to forward recently, when the Whale found itself short of bodies up front. The change for Pyett started in Connecticut’s two wins up in St. John’s, Newfoundland two weekends ago, and continued through the team’s three-victory performance at home this past weekend.
Despite his good offensive instincts, Pyett admitted to feeling a little bit like a fish out of water after being shifted off the blueline.
“It’s definitely been different, kind of being a rover and playing all over, but I’m getting a little more comfortable playing forward,” the fourth-year pro said prior to the Whale’s 3-2 win over the Manchester Monarchs Sunday. “It’s quite a change for me, I still feel a little lost out there in certain areas, and I’m sure it looks that way, but I’m just trying to do the best I can. And we’re a little short forwards with injuries, so any way I can help the team and kind of fill a hole is what I’m trying to do.”
On the surface of it, one might think that going from the heavy goal-preventing responsibilities of being a defenseman to the relatively less-taxing role of playing forward would be an easy transition. In actuality, however, there is quite a bit to think about.
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“It’s quite a bit different, in the offensive zone with the cycles (of the puck), and I keep telling my linemates, ‘just kind of bear with me,’” Pyett said. “I’m trying to play it safe defensively and not get caught. “It’s different when you’re on the other side of the puck, and you’re trying to go to the net from the corners instead of trying to defend guys coming out of the corner.
“It’s weird, for sure, and like I said, I’m still a little bit lost at times and not really sure what to do with the puck when I get it down there, just hopefully somebody’s talking to me. I’m getting a little more comfortable, and hopefully I can find myself back to D on a regular basis, but for now it’s going OK.”
One positive to going from blueline to frontline is that a player becomes the forechecker, as opposed to the forecheckee.
“That’s definitely a fun part of being a forward, getting in there and trying to disrupt it (the opponent’s defensive-zone play) and maybe hit some guys,” said Pyett. “But forward’s hard work too, it’s a lot different game. You’re doing a lot of skating, forward skating, anyway, and legs start burning, but it’s fun.”
It’s especially fun when it involves getting in on some scoring plays, which Pyett did in Saturday night’s 2-1 overtime win over the Norfolk Admirals. He scored the Whale’s first goal on a first-period power play and then had an assist on Brandon Segal’s overtime game-winner.
The play that led to that Segal goal was started by the “fun part” that Pyett referenced. In a rare three-on-three situation, he got in on the forecheck and bumped Admiral defenseman Jordan Hendry off the puck, causing him to fall into the boards. Pyett then jumped on the loose biscuit and got it to fellow defenseman Sean Collins, who found Segal for game-ending score.
“I got a little fortunate,” Pyett said of his key forecheck. “I was surprised he (Hendry) went down how he did. I didn’t think I hit him or touched him very much, and the way the game was going, how they were calling penalties, I thought maybe for sure I was going to the box. But I wasn’t going to worry about that, stay on the puck, and luckily Collins and Segal made a nice play to finish the game off for us.
“It felt great. Like I said, I’m trying to get myself back to D here as quick as I can, so I’m trying to help out, and luckily I was able to produce a little bit (Saturday) night and help the team get a win. And a lot of teams behind us have games in hand, so we have to keep getting these points and every game’s important.”
Pyett’s goal earlier in that game came with the Regina, Saskatchewan native back at his familiar point spot on the man-advantage unit.
“That definitely felt good too,” said Pyett of turning the red light on. “I haven’t scored a goal in quite some time here, so kind of get the monkey off the back. And yeah, I’m definitely comfortable out there on the power play. There’s so many skilled guys on this team, it’s pretty easy to stand at the blueline and pass the puck around, which for the most part is all I do. Hopefully we can continue to stay somewhat hot on the power play and find the back of the net the next few games.”
Seeing things from the blue line, Pyett has a healthy appreciation of what the Whale’s recent forward acquisitions, big wingers Brandon Mashinter and Nick Palmieri, have meant to the power play’s potency.
“Pucks go in the corner, you’ve got to battle, especially on entries,” Pyett said, “and they do a great job battling for pucks in the corner and getting possession for us, getting it up to us D-men, and especially in front of the net, battling for pucks there and screening the goalie, it’s very important. Hopefully they can continue to do that well and use their size to their advantage.”
After switching back and forth between wing at even strength and the point on the power play, Pyett returned to defense in the third period of Sunday’s game, after Mike Vernace was injured. That points up the value of a player who can move seamlessly back and forth between the two positions, and with Jyri Niemi still on the Whale roster and Steve Eminger still with three games potentially left on his conditioning assignment, Pyett is likely to spend some more time at forward this week, even if Vernace is unable to play.
The defensive unit is where Pyett’s heart is, however, and he feels that group has made tremendous progress.
“From the start of the year, we’ve said it ourselves, we’re (the defense) kind of the weak link on the team, I guess,” Pyett analyzed. “Being an undersized group out there, with the exception of Mac (6-5, 215-pound rookie Dylan McIlrath), who was out for the first few months, we went through some struggles, but I think we’re starting to come together as a team, on the whole, a lot better. But definitely the D have come a long way I think.”
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