It was certainly a down year for the Buffalo Sabres, but there were moments when defenseman Tyler Myers seemed to find his stride again.
At times, Myers looked like the 6-foot-8 defenseman that won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s most outstanding rookie in 2009-10. He was engaged in the defensive zone and wasn’t afraid to jump in on the rush to create offense.
He battled various injuries toward the end of the season and played in only 62 games. However, he said he felt more confident on the ice thanks to some guidance by Ted Nolan, who became the Sabres head coach on Nov. 13.
“As soon as Ted came in, my first meeting with him, hearing him say, ‘Go out there,’ – I don’t want to say, encourage me to make mistakes – but basically, ‘Don’t worry about it if I do,’” Myers said. “It helped me out a lot. I thought positive strides were taken for me this year and it’s just a matter of building on that.”
In addition to Nolan’s presence, Myers did a lot of work last offseason training both his body and mind that helped him get through a tough season. With five years left on a seven-year deal he signed in 2011, he’s looking forward to being a part of a core of players that will be able to turn things around on the ice.
With prospects like 2013 first-round picks Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov developing into better defensemen, the 24-year-old Myers is excited for the future.
“It’s all going to come down to not only the D corps coming together and working together, but we have to start creating a belief system that we didn’t start with this year,” he said. “Until that happens, there’s going to be tough times, but I think the talks that we’ve had towards the end here, I think guys realize there has to be change if we want to turn things around. It’s going to come down to how much we want it.”
I’ve done a lot of work mentally on how to approach things, how to handle things ... I think something like that would’ve affected be a lot differently in previous years that it did this year. - Tyler Myers
Nolan still sees Myers, who finished the season with nine goals and 13 assists, projecting out as a franchise defenseman – especially if he gets more help on the blue line.
“Everybody needs support,” Nolan said. “And if you haven’t got a supporting cast, there’s not too many people that, especially with the game we play – it’s a team game, it’s not an individual sport – so we need good support. And if we support Tyler in the right situation – he’s 6-8 but he skates like he’s 5-8 – we expect big things, for sure.”
Myers played his final game of the season on March 25 in Montreal. In the third period, Myers joined the rush and skated in on goal. As he was about to accept a pass, he was tripped from behind and crashed into the Canadiens’ net. His side hit the goal post and knocked the net off its moorings.
Myers said he broke a few ribs on the play and feels like he would’ve been ready to go had there been another week or two left in the season.
That game was Myers’ first contest back after missing five games with an arm injury.
“It’s never fun coming back one game and going right back on the IR. I would’ve liked to have seen a power play out of it, but it didn’t go that way,” he said. “But I’ve done a lot of work mentally on how to approach things, how to handle things, especially starting last summer so I think something like that would’ve affected be a lot differently in previous years that it did this year.”
With the various injuries that plagued the Sabres throughout the year, many different players were leaned on to provide leadership. Myers served as an alternate captain on a few different occasions and Nolan has lauded his leadership qualities.
Myers will look to take on an increased leadership role next season, but until then, he said that all of the players on the current roster understand that they must improve and continue to get better every day.
“Obviously it was a season that we have to make sure we reflect on, realize changes need to be made. But you also want to take the positives out of it and bring those into next year, next September and make sure everybody’s on the same page,” he said.
While the Sabres season is over, Myers will play a few more games on the international stage. He and forward Cody Hodgson will represent Canada in the IIHF World Championships in Belarus in May.
“Even though we’re done here, I’m excited to still have some games left in me,” Myers said.