Buffalo - September 5, 2014 - Last year was hands down one of the worst seasons in Buffalo Sabres history.
Offensive ineptitude, a defense that allowed among the most shots in the league per game and a lineup permeated with overwhelmed youth and out of place AHL-lifers.
But there was one bright spot and many were surprised at just who that was: Tyler Myers.
Myers has been heavily criticized for his play the last few years and rightfully so. The ceiling was removed after Myers won the Calder Trophy during his rookie season of 2009/10, scoring 11 goals and 48 points while evoking comparisons to every great big man in NHL history.
But the subsequent three seasons were anything but close to that output. Not only has his offense declined over the last three seasons, but his play in his defensive zone left Sabres fans (and probably the coaching staff, too) pulling their hair out. He looked indecisive, holding onto the puck for far too long in his own zone, leading to a jump in turnovers. He lacked the mean streak that could make him an elite defender given his size (6’8”). He was an all-around frustrating case and some of the less patient portions of the fan base were ready to pack it in and give up on the 24-year-old defenseman.
The 2013/14 season, however, was a bit of a revelation. That’s not to say that Myers was outstanding; no one on that putrid Sabres team was outstanding. And yes, Myers points-per-game average dipped yet again from his last full season (2012/13 was a lockout-shortened 48-game schedule), but it’s the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet that count.
He showed a new edge, looking more physical than he ever had before. Unfortunately, part of that physicality came out in the form of an elbow to the head of Dainius Zubrus, resulting in a three-game suspension, but it was still nice to see him display that mean streak that hulking defensemen like Zdeno Chara and Chris Pronger used on their way to becoming elite defenders.
Myers also showed improved play in his own zone, making fewer mistakes on breakouts and generally making the smarter play even if that play was just dumping the puck up the wall. Gone, for the most part, were the indecisive breakouts that would result in turnovers and chances for the opposition.
Some will be quick to point out that Myers was a minus-26 last year and sure, on the surface that looks bad. Don’t forget that the Sabres were historically bad and EVERYONE on the team had a bad plus/minus. Zemgus Girgensons was the only player who played over 60 games to have a plus/minus in the negative single digits. Take that into account before decrying Myers’ minus-26.
As for his offensive game, the numbers might not tell the whole story. He scored 9 goals, the most since he posted double digits in 2010/11, and 22 points in 62 games but that stat doesn’t tell you that Ted Nolan relied on him for defensive situations: Myers had the lowest zone start percentage (offensive zone starts per all zone starts) and also the lowest offensive zone starts (24.5%) of all Sabres that played more than 30 games. Simply put: he was relied upon more heavily in the defensive zone and his offensive production suffered.
When he was scoring, though, it was often on the rush where Myers still flashes that strong skating ability that made him the talk of the league when he debuted years ago. He’s still got the capability to lead the rush and quarterback the power play; with improved teammates, his numbers could take a slight rise back up before the talent comes flooding into the lineup for 2015/16.
That said, there are still issues to be concerned about. Myers missed a significant chunk of time last year thanks to knee, elbow and rib injuries. He had a strong showing for Canada at the World Championships, but was battling the flu there as well. He also started slowly, a habit that has to stop if he’s ever going to come close to being what the Sabres hope he can be.
For Myers, the future is still bright and it’s easy to forget that he’s just 24-years-old given he’s already got five years of NHL experience. He’s still got some work to do to become the well-rounded top-pairing defenseman everyone thought he’d be years ago, but things have certainly begun to come around for Myers.
After all, there’s a reason he suddenly became the topic of ever big trade rumor this past season and it doesn’t have to do with the Sabres’ desire to get rid of him.
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