WINNIPEG – It’s a tall order playing among the most minutes in a shutdown role.
The Winnipeg Jets, then, have the right man for the job.
At 6-foot-8 and 229 pounds, right-shot defenceman Tyler Myers has quickly made a name for himself here in the Manitoba capital.
His biggest task of the year so far came last Friday at MTS Centre when one of the most prolific goal-scorers in NHL history came knocking.
Myers played more than 25 minutes that night, silencing the Great Eight, Alexander Ovechkin, in one of the most difficult head-to-head assignments of the modern era. He was back on the ice logging 24 minutes against Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks the very next night.
The result? Two of the most dominant defensive performances of the season, toe-to-toe with some of the game’s brightest stars.
“Honestly, the easiest way to shut guys down as a five-man unit on the ice is to go on the attack,” Myers said. “Over the past 10 games, especially, our group has really taken on a defence-first mindset and it’s really helped our group. We have to try and keep getting better at that.”
The partnership between he and his comparatively diminutive partner, Toby Enstrom, has blossomed over the past 10 games.
On Sunday in Chicago, Enstrom singlehandedly engineered the game-tying goal, driving the puck all 200 feet up ice, passing to himself twice in full stride before setting up an odd-man situation in
tight for Chris Thorburn.
It was a beautiful play, and one Head Coach Paul Maurice hopes to see more of from the talented Swede moving forward.
“In the last 10 games or so, Toby is starting to get up the ice more like he used to and I think he’s capable of it,” Maurice said.
“Tyler’s got enough experience to pick up on that and come underneath and cover him off when he needs to. We’d like to see that as much as possible because we see that as a talent that Toby can bring.
“Right from Tyler’s first game here last year, those two were a fit. Just having enough games in the league, they figured each other out very quickly and what their tendencies are. Toby was the more patient of the two in terms of jumping into plays because Tyler’s more active. Now, having spent
a little more time together, Toby’s finding more places where he can do it.”
Communication is a key part of it. So, too, is the patience in developing chemistry with a new partner with similar offensive tendencies.
Both players have picked up on it over time, leading to their success as a duo.
“I think Toby and I are communicating well on the ice and talking a lot off the ice if there’s something we need to be doing differently,” Myers said. “Toby moves so well and sees the ice so well that he makes a lot of really good passes that allow me to jump into holes and get up in the play.”
And if Sunday is any indication, it’s a two-way street helping the Jets get up and on the attack quicker than before.
ON THE RECORD
In Sunday’s loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, Thorburn appeared in his 591st game as a member of the Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers organization. He is now only four away from becoming the franchise’s new all-time leader in games played – a record that is currently held by Ilya
Kovalchuk, who appeared in 594 games with the Thrashers from 2005 to 2010.
Thorburn is in his ninth season with the organization, recording 44 goals, 111 points and 691 penalty minutes.
“Playing his role with one franchise for as long as he has is really a statement about character and what be brings on and off the ice,” Maurice said. “Chris makes our room better. He’d be on everybody’s list. You’d say, ‘Who’s your closest two or three friends in the room?’ His name is on everybody’s list because he’s a connector. He makes the young guys feel like they’re part of it,
and he fits in with the older guys. He’s an important part of the good pieces in our room.”
Blake Wheeler has known Thorburn since he was traded to Atlanta in the spring of 2011. Ever since, they’ve developed a bond unlike any other in the dressing room.
“Sometimes the guys scoring goals, getting points or making the big save get a lot of the recognition but you can never overstate how important Thorbs is for what we do,” Wheeler said. “His character, the attitude and the work ethic he brings to the rink every day is unmatched. He embodies what we try to do. He brings an honest effort to the rink every day and has on his face doing it. He’s one of my favourite teammates I’ve ever played with, so for him, he’s going to have a place here for as
long as he wants one.”
“That doesn’t even mention what he brings on the ice, because he’s been a really effective player for us this year.”
Thorburn already has four goals in just 28 games this year. His career high is nine, set in the 2010-11 campaign.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com