The Enigma that is Tyler Myers

After signing a 7 year, $38.5 million extension in the offseason, the Sabres made it clear that they viewed Tyler Myers as one of the cornerstones of this franchise for the foreseeable future. I don’t think it would be fair to say that Myers has been "bad" so far this year, but with the expectations this fanbase places on his shoulders, it is probably completely fair to say that his play has been "underwhelming." This begs the question, which will probably end up drawing some ire in the comments section: Is Tyler Myers overrated? Or, is he simply a 21 year old defenseman who is still possibly years away from reaching his full potential?

To answer this question, we need to look back at Myers’ career thus far, not just this season. In Myers’ stellar rookie campaign in 2009/2010, in which he won the Calder Trophy, he registered 48 points and finished with a +/- of +16. For the better part of that year, Myers was only 19 years old. For rabid Sabres fans, the bar was set: "Wait until he grows into his body! Imagine him with another 20 pounds of muscle! The Calder Trophy this year, the Norris Trophy next year! Chris Pronger 2.0!!"

Under the weight of high expectations, Myers struggled to start off 2010/2011, but managed to finish on a tear to bring his +/- back to zero, and tally 37 points. Sabres fans were reassured he had pulled through the sophomore slump when he followed up his late season surge with six points in the Sabres’ playoff series with the Philadelphia Flyers. Then came this offseason, when the Sabres were able to beef up their defensive corps with the additions of Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff. It seemed like the perfect scenario for Myers. The pressure would be taken off him to be the star defenseman, and with Regehr there to accompany him down low, perhaps Myers could even tap into his offensive game a bit more.

The results this year haven’t exactly went as planned.  Myers has 3 points in 13 games (on pace for 19 points on the year), and while he sits at +2, Sabres fans certainly have expected Myers to be a bigger factor than he is.  His play on the defensive end has been so-so, but then again he has had the luxury of playing with Regehr on most occasions.  Myers said last week that the focus to begin the season was to become a shutdown defender, more so than scoring goals:

It definitely affected my mindset.  Taking out last game against Philly, I think the games before that, I think whenever Robyn and I went out there our mindset was to shut the other teams down, as opposed to going on the offensive and trying to score goals.

But with the Sabres’ defensemen all struggling to score goals, it seems like that philosophy may already be changing. Lindy Ruff has started pairing Myers with Andrej Sekera, his former partner, in what seems to be an attempt to get more of an offensive flow going. Now it sounds like the coach is happy enough with Myers’ defensive play, and hopes to see him get back that spark on the offense:

There’s no such thing as being just an offensive defenseman because if you can’t defend, you have a tough time playing.  You watched his penalty killing.  He did an excellent job killing against the big boys, and doing that at a man disadvantage.  So he can defend.  And there will be a time he will probably be equal on both sides of the puck.  But his focus, short-term here, is we want him involved more on the offensive side.

For most Sabres fans though, Ruff’s statements might draw an "I’ll believe it when I see it" reaction. Even if Ruff is happy with Myers’ defensive play, he’s a long way from being a shutdown defender, especially when he’s getting beat one-on-one as badly as he did on Saturday against Milan Michalek for his goal in the first period. To make a long story short, Myers today looks like he is on the way to having an AVERAGE season, when Sabres fans expect him to compete for the Norris Trophy one day.

After watching Myers for a little over two seasons now, it’s fair to ask questions: Do we view Tyler Myers as a failure if he just becomes a solid, reliable defenseman? Is he simply still finding his way, with the fanbase trying to rush success too quickly? Or is Tyler Myers overrated? I thought this piece was worth writing mostly to see what everyone had to say in the comments section, most of which I’m sure will read "Calm down, he’s 21." Myers still has an incredibly long career ahead of him. Heck, he’ll still be under 30 by the time his new extension runs out. I’ll go on record saying I’m not that worried about Myers in the long run, but also because I have tempered my expectations for the young man a bit as well.

In the present, which is all we have to draw from, Tyler Myers is a talented young defenseman with a lot to learn, but with a whole lot of potential.  And for now, that’s good enough for me…at least while we’re still winning….