Buffalo Sabres fans have been spoiled these past two seasons. Not with long-awaited Stanley Cups (Chicago) or with new arenas (Pittsburgh) or even with ice girls (everyone.) Sabres fans have been spoiled by the play of Tyler Myers, and even after watching him win the Calder Trophy last year, most fans still expect more from this young defenseman than is almost humanly possible at his age.
Most people think Tyler Myers had a down year this season because he didn't live up to his gaudy numbers from 2009-10, and they wouldn't necessarily be wrong. Myers struggled mightily in the beginning of the season before finding his game then finished the year on a high note. But for those who were still disappointed with his effort in this year's campaign, let's compare some stats shall we?
Take a look at these numbers of various defensemen from their second full NHL season:
Myers clearly outstrips either of these two mystery players in every single major category, but that argument all depends on who you're comparing him to. Savvy hockey fans have probably guessed who Player A and Player B are already -- they're the two guys Tyler Myers gets compared to most often: Zdeno Chara (A) and Chris Pronger (B).
Even in a year where Myers was "not as good" as he was last year, he still comes out on top at this point in his development when compared with two players who developed into perennial Norris Trophy candidates.
Now, I can already hear one big counterargument: "But Andy," you say, "those guys played on terrible teams their first few seasons and Myers has been on two playoff teams." Well spoken, O polite internet dissenter, but in Pronger's third season, his Blues made the playoffs and he was still a -18 that season with just 25 points. I can't use the same argument with Chara, as his Islanders were even more abysmal in his third year than they were in his second, but he did post consecutive -27 ratings in those two years and didn't collect more than 13 assists in any season until his fifth full year in the NHL. Barring a catastrophic collapse next year, Myers is already a more steady and productive player than both of those guys were at this point in their illustrious careers.
One thing that those two have that Myers is still working on is showing a consistent mean streak on the ice. Myers definitely improved this year with the way he used his large frame to control the puck, and his seven games in the playoffs came with a very healthy dose of nasty. If he can continue playing with the mentality that he's the biggest baddest you-know-what on the ice, it will go a long way towards making him into that perennial Norris Trophy guy we all think he can be.
So what can we expect out of Myers next year? In the second half of the season, #57 was a +8 with 5 goals and 17 assists. Project that out into a full season (with a modest bit of growth factored in) and I don't think 11 goals, 40 assists and a +20 rating while gobbling up 23-24 minutes a night would be out of the question, though you could argue that it's a slightly biased projection. Finding a steady defensive partner will certainly help, but whether that's Chris Butler, Andrej Sekera, or the big-time free agent blueliner that Lindy Ruff has asked for remains to be seen.
With continuity in his partner and continued growth at both ends of the ice, there's no question that this 21-year old can be one of the best defenseman in the NHL for a long time to come.
Now, about that contract extension...