There are a number of factors that need to play out for the Buffalo Sabres if they are, at the very least, going to make a return appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and win a post season series for the first time in six years.
Among them is the play of 4th year defenseman Tyler Myers. Its only two games but the player tabbed by many of us as a "franchise defenseman of the future", has struggled out of the gates. Despite scoring a goal in the opening win over Philadelphia, Myers play and his decision making was shaky. He took a step back, at least in terms of ice time, during Monday's win in Toronto.
Myers ended up with just 18 minutes and 6 seconds of ice time, a far cry from his career average of just under 23 minutes a game. It was his second lowest ice time total going all the way back to the start of last season. Myers was on the ice for the Leafs power play goal with 1:42 left and that was the last time he was out there. With the Sabres trying to hang on to the 2-1 lead and facing a Toronto team with an extra attacker, Lindy Ruff went with Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold, Christian Ehrhoff and Andrej Sekera as his defensemen over the final 102 seconds.
During his weekly segment on the WGR morning show, Ruff said Myers is struggling a little on the physical side and in his battles and needed to tighten up his game inside the Sabres zone.
Myers, who turns 23 on February 1st, burst out of the gate as a rookie and was fairly consistent on the way to winning the Calder Trophy in 2010. The last two seasons he has started slowly and has dealt with extended slumps. Last season Myers game was down enough for Ruff to actually bench him.
He had 48 points and was a plus 13 his rookie season but Myers production slipped to 37 points and he was an even player two years ago. Playing only 55 games last season due to injuries, a suspension and the benching, Myers had 23 points and was a plus 5.
Despite his inconsistent play, the Sabres were a different team when Myers was on the ice. Buffalo was 31-21-4 when he played and just 8-11-7 when Myers was out of the lineup.
Youth is no longer an excuse for Myers, who is making $12 million this season thanks to a 7 year, $38.5 million extension signed in September 2011. He has three seasons, 219 regular season games and two playoff series on his resume. Myers needs to become a consistent force for the Sabres both in his own end and on the offensive side of the ice. You can tell Myers is on top of his game when his passes are starting plays and when he joins the offensive rush, even going down low at times.
Myers was part of one of the best draft classes ever in terms of defensemen. Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo and Luke Schenn were all drafted before him. Erik Karlsson, Jake Gardiner, Michael Del Zotto and John Carlson were selected after him in round one. Doughty and Pietrangelo have had better careers to this point and Erik Karlsson appears to have flown past Myers last season by winning the Norris Trophy. Its time for Myers to take the next step and play consistently so Ruff can trust him and lean on him for the workload that top defensemen are asked to handle.