If they were both available on waivers this instance (not that it would ever happen), would one choose Zdeno Chara or Tyler Myers? The safe play would be selecting the reigning Norris Trophy winner who captains the Boston Bruins because he's proven himself as an elite defenseman. While Myers is enjoying a superb rookie campaign, the future is unpredictable for all hockey players.
Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie of 2009 but is stuck in a sophomore slump this year. Could Myers run into a brick wall similarly next season or experience injuries? Anything is possible. Observing the 19-year-old on the ice, those thoughts don't swim around the brain because he's a special athlete and focused like a professional who's been in the league for years.
Unexpected to make the cut in training camp, Myers did and has taken the Buffalo blue line onto his shoulders. Besides Ryan Miller, he's literally the largest reason Buffalo is in contention for an Eastern Conference title and perhaps a lengthy postseason afterwards. The exits of offensive defensemen Brian Campbell and Jaroslav Spacek are ancient history now that this irreplaceable player has graced the squad.
Being compared to Chara in your first year is one thing. Getting folks to believe you will be better than him eventually is another. And that's what I intend to do with this post.
To understand the situation, a detailed look at both individuals will explain Myers' advantages.
When Chara started out with the New York Islanders, the biggest area of concern was his skating. Commendably, the towering Slovakian trained and worked on it. Rather than letting his size advantage be a defining point, he strived for improvements and that's why Chara is a captain and someone like Hal Gill isn't. Although he's performed in multiple All-Star Games and accomplished plenty, his work rate will not slow down as Chara prides himself on his off-ice preparations. His footwork is still questioned in certain moments, but the levels he's reached cannot be denied. He will be one of the critical forces in Slovakia's outcomes at the upcoming winter Olympics.
Chara places credit for his rapid development to a couple of his coaches from juniors and Stan Butler in Prince George. Since joining the Ottawa Senators in 2002, Chara's career took off and he hasn't looked back. There's simply no element of a game that he can't handle. Whether it be quarterbacking a powerplay, blocking shots, using his reach to poke the puck away, firing a shot over 100 miles per hour, finishing his checks or fighting when someone is willing, Chara is an ideal captain. It's unfortunate that the Ottawa Senators didn't learn that before giving him away.
Wait, no it's not.
Where Chara may lay out the body, Myers positions himself perfectly with his unbelievable speed. I say that because witnessing a 6-foot-8 defenseman split two opposing blue liners or enter the zone instantly to set up the powerplay is incredible. The aggressive nature will come with the territory of experience and the youngster has already demonstrated a few samples. Myers has stated that extra pounds will also help him contain forwards in the future.
Onto the numbers where the Houston native has seven goals and 21 assists for 28 points. That puts him fifth in team scoring overall in Buffalo, 13 points clear of the next defenseman (Chris Butler), fourth among all rookies and 14th in the class of defenders. His plus-11 rating is second to Henrik Tallinder in reference to Sabres rearguards. Involved heavily in the Calder race, Myers would be the first defenseman to win the title since Barret Jackman did so in 2003.
On pace for a 46-point campaign, Myers is set to pull off a feat that took his counterpart a while to deliver. A quick glance at Chara's career numbers reveal that he didn't eclipse 40 points until his seventh season in 2004. Should Myers reach the 46-point plateau, it would surpass all of Chara's single season numbers apart from the previous two years where he managed 51 and 50 points.
To answer the question posted in the lede, an easy bet would be to pick Chara due to his accomplishments and progress. He has the better shot, more knowledge of the game, physicality, intensity and two-way awareness. Myers is the superior skater and perhaps is evenly matched in the positional sense.
However, Chara is in the midst of his 12th season and Tyler Myers is just halfway through his freshman year. Time is on the teenager's side.