From an injury standpoint, the 2016-17 season has not been an easy one for Flyers defense prospect Philippe Myers. However, from a performance and further development standpoint after a breakout campaign last season, Myers has excelled.
A stalwart two-way defenseman for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Myers has enjoyed a dominant season when he's been in the lineup.
Offensively during the now-completed regular season, Myers averaged more than point per game (10 goals, 25 assists in 34 games). Defensively, he played in all game situations and routinely saw himself matched against opponents' top lines.
In fact, Myers has not just been one of the top defensemen in the Quebec League this year, he's been one of the best junior-aged defensemen in Canada. The player, who did not turn 20 until January 25 of this year, was half of Team Canada's top defensive pairing at the World Junior Championships along with Ottawa Senators prospect Thomas Chabot.
Myers played very well throughout the preliminary round of the WJC tournament. Unfortunately, a high hit from Team USA forward Luke Kunin (a Minnesota Wild prospect) resulted in Myers sustaining an injury that caused him to miss the remainder of the WJC.
He remained out of action until February and rejoined the Huskies' lineup on Feb. 15 and has not missed a game since.
Any fears that Myers might be tentative upon his return were quickly assuaged by the player. After a few games of getting back up to speed, Myers closed the season with some of the best hockey of his four-season junior career. He played often-airtight defense and still managed to rack up 15 points (two goals, 13 assists) over the final 11 games of the regular season. During that span, Myers was also plus-13.
A year ago, Rouyn-Noranda won the QMJHL championship (called the President's Cup) after posting the league's best record in the regular season. This year, the team was not quite as dominant but still took first place in the Western Division. On Friday, the Huskies open the playoffs with Game One of their first-round series against the Halifax Mooseheads.
Last season, Myers played some of his best games during the QMJHL playoffs after a breakout regular season. Unfortunately, he was waylaid by injury during the Memorial Cup. During the 2016 offseason, Myers underwent hip and groin surgery. He missed the Flyers' development camp in July while rehabbing but returned in time for the Flyers' training camp.
Myers did not look out of place in the Flyers' camp. He even got into a few NHL preseason games and held his own. When Flyers general manager Ron Hextall informed the player he was being assigned to his Quebec League team for one more year of seasoning, the GM did so in terms of expressing belief that Myers was capable of having a stellar season of junior hockey before joining the professional ranks.
"I told the kid we were extremely impressed with what he did coming off surgery. He played back-to-back [nights in his first two NHL preseason games] and I thought that second night he would lost some altitude. He didn't. He made a real good showing for himself," Hextall said.
For his part, Myers did not let any of the praise go to his head.
"I think there's always a lot to learn, and you have to prove yourself every day," Myers said during camp. "Last year was a great experience, for me and for my team. At the same time, I can't be satisfied with that. My goal is to play here with the Flyers, and I will do whatever they think is best for me."
The unfailingly modest and team-oriented Myers comes by his humility honestly. He is a classic late bloomer who went unselected in the 2015 NHL Draft. Prior to and during his first two seasons with Rouyn-Noranda, he was deployed almost exclusively as a defensive defenseman.
By the end of the 2015-16 season, however, the consensus among scouts leaguewide is that he would have been a first-round pick in the 2016 draft had the Flyers not pounced the previous September and signed him to an entry-level contract as a free agent.
Note: Under NHL contract rules, an unselected draft-eligible player who played in a North American junior league the previous year need not re-enter the draft a second time if a National Hockey League team signs him to an entry-level contract. If signed to an ELC, the player can then "slide" back to his junior team for the next season while his rights are held by the team that signed him. If the player is not signed beforehand, he re-enters the NHL Draft pool the next summer.
Myers attended the Calgary Flames' development camp in July 2015, but was not extended an invitation for the team's regular training camp. Invited instead to the Flyers' Rookie Camp two months later, Myers earned an entry-level NHL contract with the Flyers after a very strong camp.
No one, however, suspected then that Myers would go on almost immediately after his return to have such an outstanding two-way season in 2015-16. Displaying an unusual combination of size (6-foot-5 and a still somewhat lanky 205 pounds), above-average mobility, the previously unseen offensive side of the righthanded-shooting Myers' game emerged along with the continued betterment of his puck-moving and defensive abilities. The latter areas remained the backbones of his abilities but now the points started coming with regularity for the Moncton native.
"I think, even Philippe, if you told him in September he'd have the kind of year he had, would have given you a little look. But that's a credit to him. There aren't a lot of guys who jump up in their game in one year the way he did this year. Obviously, we are thrilled. At the same time, there's going to be a process with him as he goes forward and we will do what we can do to help succeed," Flyers assistant general manager Chris Pryor said last July.
Since that time, Myers has only continued to get better and better. While the injury setbacks were unfortunate, the maturity with which the player handled the adversity and resumed his strong play were testaments to his character as well as his physical abilities.