By Tim Schmitt
Tyler Myers seems to growing up before his coaches’ eyes. Check that — maturing. Myers had already grown plenty.
The 6-foot-8 defenseman, the tallest player to ever be drafted by the Sabres, signed a three-year entry level contract with the team on Monday, and could make a strong case to be included on Buffalo’s roster next season.
Myers helped his team to the Western Hockey League championship, earning most valuable player honors along the way. The 12th pick in the 2008 Entry Draft had far and away his best season in juniors, scoring nine goals and adding 33 assists for the Kelowna Rockets. He was a plus-31.
His playoff performance is where he’s really made a name for himself, though, as the smooth skater was a physical presence in his team’s run to a title. He led all WHL defenseman in playoff scoring with 20 points in 22 games.
“Tyler is having an outstanding year. He is a big, strong player who has excellent hockey skills for a 19-year-old player,” Darcy Regier, the Sabres’ ganeral manager said in a released statement. “We’re glad to have him signed and look forward to his continued development both on and off the ice.”
Myers projected as a long-term project when the Sabres took him last year. But with Teppo Numminen unlikely to return and Jaroslav Spacek an unrestricted free agent, the Sabres defensive corps consists of Craig Rivet, Henrik Tallinder, Toni Lydman, Andrej Sekera, Chris Butler and Nathan Paetsch.
Rivet was solid in his first season with the team and Butler was the season’s biggest surprise, stepping right into a starting role. Sekera still figures heavily into the team’s plans, although it’s safe to say Buffalo expected more than 19 points and a minus-11 from the offensive defenseman.
Tallinder and Lydman, meanwhile, have not regained their form from two seasons ago and Paestch was bypassed by Butler for an opening. Mike Weber is also expected to vie for a spot on the team’s roster, but a strong showing by Myers could deem Lydman or Tallinder expendable. Both are entering the final year of their $3 million-plus contracts.
All this opens a window for Myers, who will either spend time with the Sabres or back in Kelowna next year. Since he has eligibility remaining, the defenseman can play up to 10 games with Buffalo and still be sent back to juniors. After he enters his 10th game, however, he needs to stay with the Sabres.
Myers will get to showcase his talents in the upcoming Memorial Cup, to be held this weekend in Rimouski, Quebec. Kelowna opens the round-robin event with the host Rimouski Oceanic.
And Myers will get to battle agains some of the best junior players in the world as Kelowna looks to win its second Memorial Cup in six years.
“He’s a big guy, obviously. He has a real long stick that makes it tough to get pucks behind him,” said Evander Kane of the Vancouver Giants, who lost to Kelowna in the WHL semifinals.
“You just have to play simple with him."
Contact sports editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, ext. 2266.