Don't try to tell Tyler Myers there's a sophomore jinx. He's not buying it.
Myers had the kind of rookie season every player dreams of. The Buffalo Sabres' No. 1 pick (No. 12) in 2008 stepped into the NHL last season and immediately became an impact player. He led all first-year defensemen -- and all Buffalo blueliners -- with 11 goals and 48 points, then capped his season by taking home the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.
That's quite a performance for a player who started the season as a 19-year-old (he turned 20 on Feb. 1), and seemingly could set him up for a fall. But Myers isn't concerned about any dropoff in performance in his second year.
"I know there are things I have to improve, and the coaches, especially James Patrick, are working with me," he told NHL.com. "But as far as a 'sophomore jinx -- I'm not worried about that."
Ryan Miller, who got a lot of help from the rookie defensemen.
"I think he has the potential to be the best in the League," goaltender Ryan Miller said. "He's right there. He made an impact as a rookie and he's only 20 years old. He really has room to grow and put on weight and be one of those defensemen you can't go into the corner with. He's already 230 pounds, but he has the frame to be like 260. Not too many people can go up against that. He's got advantages now, and he can only get better."
Myers made an immediate impact with the Sabres as a rookie, stepping into the lineup and averaging a team-high 23:44 of ice time. At 6-foot-8 and 222 pounds, he has tremendous size and reach, making him tough to get around.
"The coaches are always on me to use my reach and my size more," he said. "That's an area where I can definitely improve. There are other things, too -- things like body positioning and coverage in the defensive zone, and footwork. I'm a big guy, and the coaches are always looking for me to improve my footwork, especially in my own zone."
One area in which Myers surprised himself was his offensive production.
"I had more goals and points than I had ever had in juniors," he said. "I don't know why it happened. I had some shots that just went in."
As good as Myers' first NHL season was, the Sabres are optimistic that he's just scratching the surface of his abilities.
"He's passionate about the game on one hand, on the other, he has a very even keel," Buffalo General Manager Darcy Regier said. "He has a maturity level that is certainly beyond his years. I have a real curiosity about where he's going to go with it, because he clearly loves to play. He has a very mature outlook toward the game, and he's a hard worker. When you put things together like passion, maturity and hard work, who knows where that can take him."
Miller is impressed with how quickly Myers was able to learn at the NHL level, and said he's on his way to offering a unique combination of size and skill.
"His learning curve is so fast," the Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender said. "From his first training camp to making the team, just the improvement in his skating and his stick handling was huge. The kid's only 20 years old -- he's still basically learning how to shoot the right way or skate on his frame, and he's still got room to put on probably 25, 30 pounds because he's so big and that really doesn't amount to as much as it is for a shorter person. He's going to be a big man and he's still got the finesse and the skill.
"I really think without putting too much pressure on him, we're going to help him evolve as a player and we are going to do what we need to do to get him to the highest point. But that highest point, I think he's going to be the best defenseman in the League."
Myers is going to have to evolve without the assistance of two veterans who helped him a lot last season. The Sabres lost Henrik Tallinder (New Jersey) and Toni Lydman (Anaheim) to free agency, while adding Jordan Leopold and Shaone Morrisonn. Myers said Lydman and Tallinder were extremely helpful to him as a rookie -- especially Tallinder, who partnered with and mentored him.
"Toni was a rock," he said. "Henrik helped me on and off the ice. He showed me a lot on how to play and a lot on how to handle myself. I'm going to miss him."
Despite the departures of Tallinder and Lydman, Myers is optimistic that the Sabres can repeat as Northeast Division champions -- and do better in the playoffs after being upset by Boston in the opening round this past spring.
"We have the best goaltender in the League in Ryan Miller," he said. "We have some good talent up front in (Thomas) Vanek and (Derek) Roy. I think we can win the division again. The playoff loss was disappointing, but I think we're going to be better this year."