Mark Mancari may be having a career year at just the right time for the Portland Pirates.

With nine games left in the regular season, the Pirates are virtually assured of a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs, and Mancari already has established a career high for assists (42) and has matched his career high in points (67).

“I couldn’t ask for a better linemate,” said rookie forward Tyler Ennis, the team’s second-leading scorer (two points behind Mancari).

“He’s got the hardest shot in the league, and I feel comfortable passing the puck to him, but he’s almost as much of a playmaker as he is a scorer. He’s got great vision. He makes good reads, and he and makes great passes.”

Mancari’s 12 power-play goals place him among the league’s top 10 scorers.

“On the power play, he’s huge for us,” said veteran forward Brad Larsen. “Even if he’s not scoring, he’s such a threat. We get a lot off his rebounds, and the defense really has to focus on him because he’s such a threat.”

Mancari, who has a team-high 25 goals, and Ennis, who has 23 goals, have joined with Larsen to form a formidable first line.

“My linemates have really helped me,” Mancari said. “They’ve completed my game.”

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Mancari said his biggest improvement has been his skating.

“The No. 1 knock pretty much has always been my skating, and I think I’ve improved on that quite a bit,” he said. “I think it’s helping my game.

“I think I’m playing better in the defensive zone. Obviously, being able to move my feet quicker is making me a better defensive player.”

The improvements in Mancari’s game haven’t gone unnoticed.

“Mark has really taken his game to another level,” Larsen said. “You could tell on his last recall to Buffalo. He played very well. We watched all three games, and he was awesome. He fit right in.”

While he’s excited about the kind of season he’s having, Mancari is really thrilled about how the Pirates are doing.

Portland is in second place in the Atlantic Division and is in line to get home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

“I think we have a really good chance going into the playoffs,” he said.

“I understand anything can happen in the playoffs. We’ve just got to finish the season as hard as we can, and I think we can be a good contender.”

This is the fifth AHL season for Mancari, 24, and all of them have been with the Buffalo Sabres’ organization.

“This is probably the best team I’ve played for,” he said.

So what makes this year’s version of the Pirates different from Mancari’s previous teams?

“All four lines can contribute,” he said. “We’ve got pretty even scoring throughout the whole lineup. Whether we’re playing first or fourth line, it doesn’t matter. Everyone has been chipping in on the scoresheet.”

The statistics support Mancari’s contention.

In 71 games, the Pirates have 210 goals. Mancari, Larsen and Ennis have produced 58 of those goals, or 27.6 percent.

“I wouldn’t be doing what I’ve been doing without being part of a good team,” Mancari said.

 

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

[email protected]