My­ers the man — not Big Buff

All things con­sid­ered, he’s the keeper

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - FRONT PAGE - By Paul Wiecek paul.wiecek@freep­ress.mb.ca Twit­ter: @PaulWiecek

HE’S a moun­tain of a de­fence­man, shoots right-handed, isn’t afraid to jump into a rush and he led the Win­nipeg Jets in ice time in a 1-0 win over the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins Sun­day night. Dustin Byfuglien? Nope — Tyler My­ers. Very qui­etly and in small, of­ten im­per­cep­ti­ble steps over the past few weeks, My­ers has made a case with his play it’s he — not Byfuglien — who is now this team’s top de­fence­man.

My­ers has led the Jets in ice time three of the last six games — a man­tle that used to be­long to Byfuglien al­most ex­clu­sively. He’s also led the Jets blue-lin­ers of­fen­sively — he has six points in the last five games, while Byfuglien has one point in his last six games — and My­ers has done so while be­ing matched up against the other team’s top line most nights.

And, as of Sun­day night, My­ers has also saved one more game for the Jets with his face this sea­son than Byfuglien.

Sud­denly, Byfuglien doesn’t seem as in­dis­pens­able as he did only a month ago. That makes for an­other im­por­tant vari­able for Jets GM Kevin Chevel­day­off to pon­der as he con­sid­ers what to do with Byfuglien, an un­re­stricted free agent at the end of this sea­son who has asked for a princely US$55 mil­lion over eight years to re-sign in Win­nipeg.

My­ers’ con­tract? He’s locked up for three more sea­sons af­ter this one and is look­ing like one of the best bar­gains in the NHL — his salary is US$4 mil­lion next sea­son, US$3.5 mil­lion the sea­son af­ter that and US$3 mil­lion in 2018-19.

There’s also one fi­nal set of num­bers to con­sider — My­ers is 25, Byfuglien is 30.

How good is My­ers right now? Well, he was the cov­eted piece in the trade last sea­son that sent Evan­der Kane and Zach Bo­gosian to the Buf­falo Sabres and Jets head coach Paul Mau­rice says My­ers has ex­ceeded even the lofty expectations the club had for him at that time.

“From the time he came in till now, his whole body of work is prob­a­bly bet­ter than even we ex­pected. He’s been that good for us,” Mau­rice said Mon­day af­ter prac­tice at the MTS Cen­tre. “We’ve moved part­ners around for him, he changes roles, he plays against the other team’s best now very reg­u­larly. And he con­trib­utes to the of­fence.

“But the con­sis­tency in his game has been fan­tas­tic. He doesn’t have too many off-nights and even on his off-nights, he’s still play­ing against the other team’s best and a lot of times get­ting it done. He’s been very, very good.”

My­ers has flour­ished since he was paired a few weeks ago with Toby En­strom and his en­su­ing explosion of of­fence — his two goals and four as­sists in the last five games are al­most one-half the 14 points he gen­er­ated all sea­son — has been a wel­come ad­di­tion to his game.

And a nec­es­sary one if Chevel­day­off is con­tem­plat­ing look­ing be­yond Byfuglien and see­ing My­ers as the man he wants to an­chor this team’s blue-line for years to come.

“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.

“I’ve been really happy with my of­fen­sive game. I feel like I’ve been gen­er­at­ing a lot of chances, right from Game 1 this sea­son. And now in th­ese last 10 games, I feel like I’ve been cap­i­tal­iz­ing a lit­tle bet­ter. Now, the most im­por­tant thing is just find­ing that con­sis­tency in my of­fen­sive game.”

While he was held off the score­sheet against the Pen­guins, the two saves My­ers made in the fi­nal minute — stretch­ing his 6-8, 230-pound frame across the Jets goal line and tak­ing two pucks to the face — saved the win for the Jets and made high­light films con­ti­nent-wide.

It was above and be­yond the nor­mal call of duty, but My­ers made it sound a lit­tle like he was re­pay­ing a debt of grat­i­tude to a team he says gave his ca­reer new life af­ter what had be­come a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion for him in Buf­falo.

“I owe a lot to the Jets,” says My­ers. “I don’t think I re­al­ized how much I would like com­ing here un­til I got here. It was one of those sit­u­a­tions where I was all-in for the re­build in Buf­falo and I was ready to go through those tougher times to get bet­ter.

“But I also un­der­stood that not only was a change nec­es­sary to kick-start Buf­falo, but — as things have turned out — it kind of kick-started me again too.”

‘I also un­der­stood that not only was a change nec­es­sary to kick-start Buf­falo, but — as things have turned out — it kind of kick-started me again too’ — Jets de­fence­man Tyler My­ers, on his move from the Sabres to Win­nipeg ‘From the time he came in till now, his whole body of work is prob­a­bly bet­ter than even we ex­pected. He’s been that good for us’ — Jets coach Paul Mau­rice

JOE BRYKSA / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS BORIS MINKEVICH / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Tyler My­ers (lef t) holds t wo sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tages over blue-line com­pa­triot Dustin Byfuglien: his age and con­tract sit­u­a­tion.

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