BUFFALO, N.Y. – Tyler Myers has come to the realization he still has plenty of room to grow.
Though, the Buffalo Sabres’ 6-foot-8 defenceman isn’t getting any taller, Myers said Friday he spent the off-season developing his mental approach to rebuild his confidence. That’s something the 23-year-old felt was necessary after wilting under the distractions and weight of expectations of playing his first season under a $38.5 million, seven-year contract.
“It played a factor for sure,” Myers said, referring to a deal that paid him a $10 million signing bonus. “A lot of things went on last year that got in my head.”
It was a forgettable, lockout-shortened season for Myers, who too often looked lost at both ends of the ice. He finished with three goals and five assists and a minus-8 rating in 39 games before missing the final seven after breaking a bone in his leg.
“I’ll be the first one to say, that’s not me as a player. I have to be better,” Myers said. “You have a year like you did last year, you want to change things.”
He began the transformation by using what Myers called mental-training techniques to avoid familiar pitfalls of self-doubt that would linger after a bad game.
“It’s an everyday process that’s taking time,” Myers said. “But it’s definitely the right direction.”
The next step is proving he’s capable of achieving the potential Myers once showed in becoming the NHL’s rookie of the year in 2010. That’s when he led Sabres defencemen with 11 goals, 40 points and notched a team-high 23:44 of average ice time.
Confident as Myers is in getting off to a fresh start, he’s not yet ready to make any promises after two days of training camp.
“We can stand here and talk about it all you want. But none of it matters unless you come to play Oct. 2,” Myers said, referring to Buffalo’s opener at Detroit. “I think every guy comes in each year looking to prove themselves.”
The Sabres are counting on Myers to play a key role in the team’s ongoing transformation.
Having missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, Buffalo is in the midst of a youth movement after purging much of its veteran core over that past 18 months. And it’s a changeover that might not be done.
Goalie Ryan Miller and forward Thomas Vanek’s futures are uncertain with both entering the final year of their contracts.
The Sabres enter this season with a new coach in Ron Rolston, who took over after Lindy Ruff was fired in February. They’re young at centre, and entertaining the possibility of having rookie first-round draft pick, defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen, make the immediate jump to the NHL level.
Myers refuses to call this a rebuilding year, and has taken it upon himself to become a vocal leader.
“I’ve been here long enough that if something needs to be said, I’ll say it,” Myers said. “But there’s a lot of guys in this room right now that can do that as well. I think a big part of success is everyone in this room holding each other accountable.”
One knock against the Sabres has been a leadership vacuum that’s been unfilled since the team lost co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency in July 2007. Buffalo has not won a playoff series since, while missing the post-season altogether four times.
Aside from addressing his mental approach, Myers dedicated much of the off-season to staying in shape. He spent seven weeks working out in Buffalo. And when he travelled home to Kelowna, British Columbia, Myers had one of the team’s strength and conditioning coaches join him to oversee daily workouts.
Rolston is impressed with the commitment Myers showed.
“I think he had an unbelievable summer,” Rolston said. “He’s gotten a lot stronger. He’s in really good shape, both physically and I think mentally. I think he’s going to play well.”
For Myers, it was an opportunity to lead by example, and acknowledge a desire to improve.
“You never want to be in denial,” Myers said. “That would just make even more you have to handle mentally. And I wouldn’t be able to take one step in mental training if I didn’t accept that.”