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IN-DEPTH: Myers earning his keep

How rookie defenseman Phil Myers was finally able to crack the Flyers lineup

by @NHLFlyers

Watching Flyers rookie defenseman Phil Myers on the ice, he looks like a classic high-end draft pick. 

He combines well above-average skating ability and ranginess, size (6-foot-5, 200-plus pounds), exceptional cardiovascular conditioning, poise, two-way upside with the potential to be an all-situations player, with a righthanded shot.  

Myers turned 22 on January 25. His performance on the ice -- the efficiency and consistency with which he seals off the boards, his first-pass ability, the mobility that lets him jump into the rush, a heavy shot and the poise to recover after he makes a mistake -- is at a more advanced stage than most second-year pros and NHL rookies.

It is almost unfathomable now to recall that Myers went unselected in the 2015 NHL Draft and, a few weeks later, completed Development Camp with the Calgary Flames without being invited to their rookie/full team camp in September. The rest of the NHL's loss has been the Flyers' gain. 

Hard work bred confidence and success

From the time Myers played his draft-eligible 2014-15 season in the Quebec League and his July camp look-see with Calgary, his development both physically and skills-wise took off like a rocket over the next four years.

Myers recalled. "That's where it kind of started for me. I definitely think the offseason is a big thing for me."

Myers devoted himself to an intensive conditioning regimen. He polished his skating. He put in countless hours in the gym and focused on eating the right foods. In September 2015, he attended Flyers rookie camp as a tryout player and won an entry level NHL contract before he returned to his junior team, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. 

During the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, Myers' ice time with the Huskies was somewhat limited relative to high-profile prospects, although he dressed in a combined 106 games (2g-10a, 12 pts., -4). 

In his draft-plus-one season in 2015-16, he surged out of the gates and earned more ice time across all game situations.  

The result: 17 goals, 45 points and a staggering +52 rating in 63 games; nearly four times his combined output from his first two seasons. Part of it was increased opportunity, part of it was the talent surrounding Myers on his team, and the rest came from within the player himself.

"I think I just started to play with more confidence, and that's a big thing," Myers said.

By 2015-16, Myers was a shoo-in for Team Canada's World Junior Championship roster. He had a dominating first half in the Q for Rouyn-Noranda and opened the WJC as a fixture on Canada's top defensive pairing. Unfortunately, a high hit from Team USA's Luke Kunin (now a member of the Minnesota Wild) concussed Myers and knocked him out of the tournament. He missed the post-WJC portion of the season, but returned to dress in 13 playoff games.

In 34 regular season games, Myers racked up 35 points (10g-25a) and a plus-13 rating. He had three goals and six points in the postseason. By this point, Myers was clearly ready for at least the American Hockey League level.


Navigating the Pro-Game Transition

Myers spent the next season-and-a-half in the American Hockey League with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Year one primarily saw him overcome first-half injuries while acclimating himself to the adjustments from junior hockey to the more structured nature of the pro game. The second half-year was about doing some minor fine-tuning and demonstrating a higher degree of overall consistency. 

Now the Flyers' interim head coach, Scott Gordon was with Myers for much of the process.

"When Phil first got to Lehigh, he was used to the junior game, where he was bigger and stronger than almost everyone he played against. He could make plays on almost every shift. A big part of it was learning when you can try to make a play -- or look for a hit -- and when you have to make the simple play and live to fight the next battle," Gordon recalled.

Myers progressed rapidly -- arguably at a slightly faster than Travis Sanheim had in his rookie AHL season of 2016-17 -- but then had to start from scratch when he missed the better part of two months due to a nagging injury. Once he finally got healthy, Myers enjoyed a solid second half of the season.

There were still times where Myers would try to do a little too much, but the good shifts usually outweighed the rough ones at the end of the night. When Sanheim -- struggling defensively and then rarely playing at all for a lengthy stretch during his NHL rookie campaign -- was sent down to the Phantoms for an 18-game stint, Gordon and then-assistant coach Kerry Huffman paired him with Myers. 

The results were tremendous. The pairing dominated in many games. With his confidence restored, Sanheim was recalled to the Flyers and looked like a different player; a hint of what would come as the 2018-19 season has progressed. Myers, meanwhile, began to take his own game to the next level. He finished his AHL rookie campaign with 10 goals, 37 points and a +7 rating.

Myers' most impressive accomplishment, however, came during the Phantoms run to the Eastern Conference Final of the Calder Cup playoffs.

In the Phantoms' OT win to clinch their first round series against Providence, Myers played over 30 minutes. That was nothing to compared to the marathon five-overtime game in Charlotte in Game Four of the second round. With the Phantoms playing with only five defensemen -- Samuel Morin suffered a torn ACL in the first period -- Myers logged a staggering 60-plus minutes of ice time. 

"Yeah, I was pretty tired the next day but I wasn't really thinking about how much I was playing that night. It was a big game in the series," Myers recalled.


Final Steps to the NHL

Like most hockey players, Myers is quick to credit his teammates and coaches -- junior coaches, Flyers development coach Kjell Samuelsson, Huffman and Gordon -- for the role they played in his development toward the NHL. However, the biggest share of the credit goes to Myers himself.

Myers had a window of opportunity during the Flyers training camp this past September to win an NHL job. Veteran Andrew MacDonald was out due an injury originally slated to keep him out for six weeks (he returned in three, but struggled early in the season and wound up scratched numerous times). 

Unfortunately, Myers had an inconsistent camp and preseason. He was cut from the NHL roster and sent back to the Phantoms. Fellow second-year pro Mark Friedman wound up being the final cut among the defensemen in camp.

Despite the disappointment, Myers soon picked up where he left off last season. Within a few weeks, he was consistently playing good hockey on both sides of the puck.

"I would say, by the middle of November, I felt like Phil was ready to play up here in Philly and would do a good job. He just had to wait for his opportunity, but I felt pretty confident. The consistency in terms of the things we worked on his first year was definitely at that next level to where I thought he'd be ready when the call came," Gordon said.

Gordon was named Flyers interim head coach on Dec. 17, replacing Dave Hakstol. All of the reports from Huffman (who took over as Phantoms interim head coach) continued to be positive, as were those by Flyers scouts to new general manager Chuck Fletcher.


The call comes

Myers was recalled to the Flyers on Feb. 9. After Huffman happily passed along the good news to Myers, the young player had to strike a balance between jubilation and readying himself for the next task at hand: getting into the Flyers lineup and proving that he deserved to stay. 

"This has been a goal of mine for a long time, to play in the NHL. When I found out, obviously I was filled with good emotions. The first ones I called were my parents. It was very exciting. That being said, I've tried to stay kind of [even keel] and not get too high or too low. The guys have all been very welcoming to me, everybody has. It definitely helps to be in the room and see a lot of guys I played with on the Phantoms but everyone has made me feel comfortable," Myers said.

Philippe Myers made his NHL debut on February 17 in Detroit. with his parents, Dave and Suzanne, in attendance. Teammates played a time-honored prank on Myers at the start of warmups, letting him step out on the ice all alone and skate around a bit before they finally joined him. In the game itself, the Flyers dressed seven defensemen, Myers skated 9:53 of ice time over 14 shifts.

Myers said afterwards, "I have to be honest, I was pretty nervous. But every game I think it will be a little less nerves each time."

From Feb. 21 onward, Myers has become a fixture in the Flyers lineup. His ice time has expanded. Alternate captain MacDonald was soon bumped down a notch on the depth chart to the seventh defenseman role; dressing when the team has played seven defensemen, and being scratched when the team has had a full complement of 12 forwards available. 

Myers' first NHL point came on Feb. 26 against Buffalo; an assist on a play where he made an intelligent pinch in the offensive zone and then a pass that started the goal sequence on a deflected puck. His first goal came at 19:48 of the second period against Washington on March 6. 

On the play, Myers took a drop pass from Claude Giroux. With his momentum going forward, the rookie defenseman fired off a shot from just above the hash marks that he buried in the back of the net. The goal trimmed a cavernous five-goal deficit to four goals but was a springboard to a third period comeback bid that fell short in a 5-3 loss. 

Two nights later, the Flyers bounced back with a 5-2 road win over the Islanders. Myers was a plus-one in the game across 17 shifts. 

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