A Winnipeg Free Press article drew some attention on Twitter a couple weeks ago when Paul Wiecek wrote about Tyler Myers, calling him the Jets’ top defenceman.
It’s probably fair to say that most don’t see Myers as Winnipeg’s best blueliner. At least one – if not all three – of Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, and Jacob Trouba are likely better than the Jets’ hulking, surprisingly-not-Slovakian defenceman.
But Wiecek’s article speaks to an interesting divide in opinion on Myers’ play. Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has some franchise-shaping decisions ahead of him with the Jets; trying to figure out what they have in Tyler Myers will be a big factor in the future of the Winnipeg blueline.
A Houston native, Myers has an unbelievably impressive set of physical tools. A move to Calgary at age ten pushed the already-tall Texan towards hockey: now 6’7 and 230 pounds, Myers has enviable size and reach for a defenceman.
Myers can skate, too, and not just for a big man – he has a quick first step and a good top speed. When you add in a dangerous wrist-shot and surprisingly slick hands, it’s easy to understand why the Buffalo Sabres traded up to take Myers 12th overall in the 2008 Entry Draft.
So you have a huge defenceman who can skate and contribute on offence; in many ways, Myers sounds like the type of player you build a franchise around.
But Myers hasn’t been the clear-cut top guy he looked like he might become in his Calder-winning rookie season. He hasn’t come close to repeating that season’s 48-point effort, and didn’t turn into the minute-crushing shutdown defenceman the Sabres were hoping for.
Myers’ last coach with the Sabres, Ted Nolan, was a big fan. But the fact that Tim Murray, one of the sharpest GMs in the league, chose to trade away their 24-year old blueliner, rather than include him in the Buffalo rebuild, speaks volumes.
Modern statistics don’t paint a great picture of Myers’ game. As a rookie, he was a slightly negative possession player – for a teenager, still impressive. But he hasn’t ever really taken the next step. On both all-time terrible Buffalo teams and good Winnipeg teams, Myers has struggled to move the needle for possession.
The takeaway from all the squiggly lines: Myers has generally had a negative impact on his team’s shot (and goal) differentials when he’s on the ice. There have been just two extended stretches in his career where Myers’ teams have controlled play better with him on the ice than off.
Myers doesn’t look great by war-on-ice’s Wins Above Replacement statistic, either: he has been sub-replacement level for four years, and more than a full win below replacement for the past two seasons.
It’s hard to imagine Myers as a below-replacement level or even below-average NHL defenceman. Some of the best-run teams in the league – the Kings and the Red Wings among them – pushed hard to acquire Myers when he was available last season.
One of the common refrains on the big defenceman last season was that his struggles were due to Buffalo’s rebuild: that Myers was miscast as a number one d-man, and was getting little support from his teammates, but could excel as a second-pairing player on a better team.
AS A JET
Myers’ move to Winnipeg, as a part of the Evander Kane trade, has given him a chance to be that second-pairing guy. His primary d partner has been the always-underrated Tobias Enstrom, and they’ve been given generous usage from Paul Maurice.
Visually, there has been a lot to like about Myers’ game as a Jet. His skating can be a huge asset in getting the puck out of the Jets zone, and he makes some gorgeous plays on offence.
As a big guy, you expect him to be unleashing the clapper from the point, but most of Myers’ goals have come from his wristshot. He’s patient in setting up plays, and can pick his corners.
On defence, though, Myers can get the Jets into trouble with his decision-making on the breakout. He does great when skating the puck out of the Winnipeg zone himself, but when he moves the puck, the Jets end up pinned against the boards or turning the puck over too often.
Enstrom and Myers have benefited from regularly sharing the ice with the top line of Ladd, Little, and Wheeler, often in offensive situations, when the Jets are trailing.
Myers’ stats haven’t been terrible since coming to Winnipeg. The Jets have controlled just over 50% of shot attempts with Myers on the ice. That isn’t bad in of itself, but given his usage, it isn’t great either: almost all of his regular linemates post better shot differentials without Myers than with him.
The Myers-Enstrom pairing makes a lot of sense for the Jets. Tobias Enstrom is a steady, defensively responsible presence, and he allows Myers to play to his strengths in the Winnipeg zone. Similarly, Myers is able to freewheel offensively with Enstrom on his left.
Myers doesn’t drive offensive shot rates, but has put up top-pairing level points per hour and goals per hour his whole career – there’s more to his offence than just shot rates.
Facing contract discussions with Jacob Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien, it’s really important that the Jets try to figure out what type of player they have in Tyler Myers. If he’s a number one guy, as Wiecek clearly believes, awesome.
But if he isn’t – and I don’t think he is – the Jets have some thinking to do. If Myers needs a strong partner to be a second-pairing defenceman, what happens if the Jets lose Byfuglien? Could Myers’ trade value (widely reported to be very high when he was being shopped last season) be greater than his value to the Jets on the ice? Given the lack of movement in Travis Hamonic discussions, could the Islanders be more willing to take Myers in return for the Manitoba native?
The Jets are unlikely to seriously pursue a trade for Myers. His contract leaves the Jets on the hook for fewer actual dollars owed than his $5.5 million AAV cap hit, a huge boon for an internal-budget organization.
Beyond that, the previously mentioned WFP article included glowing quotes from coach Paul Maurice on Myers. Top to bottom, the organization seems to be a big fan of Tyler Myers.
So even if the organization sees Myers as a Jet long-term, or at least for the remaining three seasons on his contract, evaluating the big defenceman accurately is crucial. Letting Buff walk and leaving Trouba – Myers as the top two right-hand defencemen next season wouldn’t likely go well for the Jets; at the very least, Chevy should be making sure the Jets can continue to support Myers with a strong d-partner.
Myers has some parts of his game that are legitimately top-pairing level. But his overall impact is washed out by some of the parts that… aren’t. That’s important to know, too. Figuring out what parts of Myers’ game are dragging down his on-ice impact should help the coaching staff identify skills to work on.
There was an interesting quote from Myers about the progression of his game, again from Wiecek’s piece:
“I’ve been very happy the last three or four years with how far my defensive game has come. And that’s first and foremost for me,” Myers said Monday. “But now I have that exactly where I want it, it’s allowed me to take a little more risk offensively.”
Myers is young, talented, and is on a great contract for the Jets organization. But he just isn’t a number one defenceman, or a top-pairing guy. If Myers is going to be Jet long-term, hopefully he continues to improve his game and can translate all those tools into a better overall impact.