BUFFALO, N.Y. – Tyler Myers is so tall, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff jokes that he keeps his skates on whenever he has a chat with the young defenceman. That way, Ruff can at least talk to Myers eye to chin.
“I’m a little intimidated at times,” Ruff said with a smile after the Sabres opened rookie training camp Tuesday. “He’s a big man.”
The only thing bigger than the six-foot-eight Myers might be the high expectations the Sabres have of the 2008 first-round draft pick who, at 19, is being given an opportunity to make the team this season.
Ruff isn’t making any guarantees, but there’s considered to be at least one defensive spot up for grabs once Sabres veterans report to camp Saturday.
What Ruff is sure of is how much attention Myers already has attracted after a celebrated Canadian junior hockey season last year.
“You talk to other coaches, and the first player they ask about is, ‘Is that Myers kid going to make the team?”‘ Ruff said. “That is something special when a player isn’t on your team and you’ve got other teams or coaches asking about him. He’s been noticed.”
He’s hard to miss in many ways.
After being drafted 12th overall by Buffalo, Myers went on to help Canada win the world junior championship title in January. In the spring, he played a key role in leading Kelowna to the Western Hockey League championship, during which Myers was named the WHL’s playoff MVP after scoring 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 22 games.
Myers also scored a career-high 42 points in 58 regular-season games while showing a gritty side to his style by registering 105 penalty minutes.
If last season was what Myers considered to be “one of the most fun hockey years” of his life, he’s eyeing a new objective entering his second Sabres training camp.
“Last year, I just wanted to come into camp and make an impression,” Myers said. “This year, I’m coming in to compete for a spot on the team.”
Myers said without hesitation that he feels ready to play in the NHL, but added: “It doesn’t really matter what I think. It’s going to come down to what the coaches and scouts want to do with me.”
Myers signed a three-year entry level contract in May. Under NHL rules, the first year of Myers’ contract won’t kick in until he plays his 10th NHL game this season.
If he doesn’t make the Sabres or is demoted, he’ll return to playing in Kelowna.
Myers looked solid in his first day of camp, using his long reach to break up a 2-on-1 by using his stick to disrupt the puck-carrying forward. He also deftly used his body behind the net to keep the puck out of reach of poke-checking forward Zack Kassian.
Myers’ best play came when it appeared he was beaten by an opposing forward along the boards in the neutral zone. Myers recovered by poking the puck away and then, after circling around the zone, split two defenders to drive in on net only to be stopped by goalie J.P. Lamoureux.
Though the Sabres are expecting several youngsters, including forwards Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy, to compete for jobs this month, Ruff referred to Myers as the most intriguing prospect in camp
“When you’re looking at a kid that’s 6-8, can move the way he moves and has had the success last year, he’s done very well,” he said.
The only question for Ruff is to see how Myers plays against NHL veterans, and whether he can handle the day-to-day grind of playing and practising.
Myers’ confidence stems from being accustomed to performing in pressure-packed situations.
“There’s a lot of outside pressure and, especially this past year, I learned to deal with it,” Myers said. “The feeling of winning made it even better. That was eye-opening for me.”
Notes: Myers is only an inch shorter than Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who is the NHL’s tallest player. … General manager Darcy Regier said he plans to continue negotiations with forward Drew Stafford, a restricted free agent, who remains unsigned. … The Sabres also have yet to sign minor-league forward Mark Mancari, who did not report to camp Tuesday.