Whenever a minor leaguer has an older brother who played in the National Hockey League, the comparisons usually come pretty quickly, and sometimes they are impossible to live up to.
Dan Nycholat never really tried. His brother Lawrence played 50 games in the NHL with the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Ottawa Senators, Vancouver Canucks and Colorado Avalanche, and is also a defenseman. But he's also 10 years older and left home when Dan was 5.
``From that point on, he was always elsewhere playing hockey,'' Dan said. ``I always got to watch him play wherever he was from afar and learn and talk to him and get insight, which is really valuable. It was a lot of phone conversations and summer hangouts when he was home and my school was out. It's paid off to this point for me. He mentored me and helped my game in all aspects.''
Now Lawrence is retired because of injuries, and Dan is building his own game and name. The rookie defenseman has shown steady improvement early in the season, sometimes with limited playing time, but he's stepped up recently because of injuries.
He's also scored more points of late, earning seven assists over the past 12 games.
His Komets teammates all know about Nycholat's brother, but they rarely mention it. They expect Dan to develop his own style. Because more of the players are closer to Dan's age 23 than Lawrence's 33, any comparisons are meaningless.
``I think if we were in the league at the same time there would be direct comparisons,'' Dan said.
Lawrence is smaller and a little more efficient offensively, while Dan is bigger and more of a defense-first blueliner. Still, there are things he said he can learn from Lawrence.
``Along the way, he faced a lot of adversity,'' Dan said. ``If you really love the game, you have to keep working at it and persevere. Through his injuries and setbacks, he always set a good example for me.''
Dan was in the opening-night lineup for the Komets, but it's only recently that he has received steady playing time. He's been trying to work on consistency.
``I think keeping a level head and a calm demeanor is the most important thing I'm working on,'' he said.
That's shown up recently when Nycholat has been able to bounce back after poor shifts or periods. He always seems to play his best hockey in the third period. With all of the turnover on the Komets' blue line because of call-ups and injuries, he's become one of the steadier young defensemen of late.
``Injuries are never a good thing to see, but it's also an opportunity for younger players to step in and help the team win,'' he said. ``That's what I'm focusing on.''