At 6-foot-8 and 227 pounds, Tyler Myers
casts a rather imposing shadow.
But it pales in comparison to the shadow the Buffalo Sabres
defenseman felt enveloping him at the start of this season, the one cast by his stellar rookie season that earned him the Calder Trophy and raised expectations for him around the League.
Trying to live up to those lofty projections had a counter effect -- in an effort to create offense and maintain or even improve on the 48 points of his rookie season, Myers became a bit of a reckless player, and it showed.
Before he knew it, Myers was a minus-12 only 13 games into the season.
"More than anything it was me -- I was in my own head," Myers said. “I won't lie -- I was feeling pressure from last year. I thought I had to do more than I did coming into the season, and it took me a little while to figure out that less is more."
Myers can't really be blamed for struggling to get out of that season-opening slump because, well, he really never had a stretch of bad play before. During his rookie season Myers never came close to approaching the first 13 games of this season.
"More than anything it was me -- I was in my own head. I won't lie -- I was feeling pressure from last year. I thought I had to do more than I did coming into the season, and it took me a little while to figure out that less is more." -- Tyler Myers
He knew it would come at some point, but he figured it would have been a lot sooner.
"To tell you the truth I was expecting to face adversity like I did this year a lot sooner than I did," Myers said. "I went into last year expecting something like that to happen, but I was very fortunate that it didn't. Now that it has, I feel I've worked out of it, I've learned from it and I should be able to move forward and avoid it in the future."
Myers said there was no moment of clarity, no shining light getting him to simplify things and play the same way that got him to this point.
One thing is for sure -- he was given a lot of suggestions from Lindy Ruff
. Buffalo's coach sat him down on several occasions to implore Myers to take the danger element out of his game, or at least to tone it down a notch.
"In your second year I think everybody has a pretty good read on you as a defenseman," Ruff said. "Teams played him differently, and there were times where he tried too hard to make too much happen. He made some poor decisions that led to some goals against and cost us some games, which are growing pains. Now he's eliminated a lot of those mistakes and still been able to provide some offense while playing a sounder game defensively."
It would be easy to look at the way the Sabres have turned their season around and entered the Eastern Conference playoff hunt and pin it on the play of Myers, except that would be a disservice to what his teammates have accomplished in the absence of their best forward, Derek Roy
has been better than a point-a-game player since Roy went down with a torn quad tendon on Dec. 23, scoring 9 goals with 15 assists in those 21 games. Drew Stafford
has an incredible 15 goals and 6 assists over the same span.
But just as there's no doubting that Myers' struggles were a major contributing factor to Buffalo's 3-9-2 start to the season, him finding his game has had a major impact on the Sabres going 24-15-4 since then.
"He's such a great player, when's he's hot it helps a lot," said rookie forward Tyler Ennis
. "He's so skilled and so big he can do a lot of different things, so when he's going it definitely helps."
Myers feels the same principles that applied to his own turnaround have been at the root of the Sabres' recent success, particularly since the loss of Roy. Buffalo has gone 13-7-2 in his absence.
"I think it's just buying into our system and playing it hard," he said. "We switched up some things in our system that people have really bought into. They're really working hard to make it work. But it all starts on defense. We made a goal for ourselves to tighten it up, and I think we've done that. We just need to stay consistent throughout an entire game to win hockey games. It's going to be tough in this last stretch of the season, but we all know what we have to do. We just need to go out and do it."