Tyler Myers and The Things You Can’t Teach
When I was growing up playing hockey, there was one thing coaches used to repeat over and over and over ad-nauseam. I’d hear it from my coach (my dad), I’d hear it from the assistant coach (my best friend’s Dad), I’d hear it from other players, and I’d hear it from the most important voice to ever exist: myself. This one thing became a defining facet of my entire hockey career and for better or for worse (okay, pretty much for worse) became a cornerstone that I developed my game around (aside: I should take this time to point out that I played hockey from age five until age fifteen and was, to put it nicely, mediocre. Basically, I was about as “Drew Stafford playing the year after a contract” as they come.) Anyway, the one thing that every coach loved to harp on was this: You can’t teach size.
In youth hockey I’d watch some behemoth, hit-a-growth-spurt-way-too-early, “holy balls is this kid on steroids”, 13 year old out-play everyone on the ice. He’d steal the puck, go end-to-end propelled on stilts for legs and blast a stupidly fast shot past some poor 12 year old whose pads were too big and was probably day-dreaming about boobs or video games or boobs in video games, anyway. “Welp, you can’t teach size,” I’d hear someone rationalize from down the bench.
There were two problems with this idiom, at least from my underachieving, youth-hockey playing point of view. The first problem was that I was generally in the bottom five players for size on every single team I was on. I didn’t hit my growth spurt until a year after I quit and it was pretty much a guarantee that I was always one of the smallest players on the ice. The second problem with this height-based theory was that IT WAS TOTALLY CORRECT. Hit the jump to read more about my inadequacies and how Tyler Myers is tall.
Size is an all encompassing X-Factor in hockey. The game is immediately easier for “big men” at pretty much every level. I’m not just saying it’s easier from a muscle or strength standpoint, the game AS A WHOLE (sans maybe elusiveness or agility) is easier. When your legs are longer than everyone, your stride is bigger and your skating is way more powerful. You don’t need to be elusive when you can just skate past people. And if you can’t skate past them, you’re big enough to skate through them. Longer arms mean longer sticks mean better shots. Stronger arms means better wrists and, you guessed it, better shooting. You see what I’m getting at here.
Now, I’m not saying that every big man in the NHL plays a step above everyone else. I’m not saying that because that’s not the case. In actuality, most tall guys in the NHL end up becoming niche players. John Scott cripples my argument because he’s one of the tallest in the league and he can’t shoot, pass or really skate that well. The aforementioned talk about dominance from bigger players happens in a time when some players are more developed as humans than others. That overall advantage comes at a time when bigger players are working to develop their all-around game, just like smaller players. Skating, shooting, passing, puck possesion. Not things like face punching.
When you get an all-around player that is an anomaly from a size standpoint, it can make a dominant hockey player AT WHATEVER FACET OF THE GAME THAT PLAYER TRIES TO EXCEL (Besides being small. That’s just impossible.) Enter: Tyler Myers. What I’ve spent the last 4-ish paragraphs trying to set up is the simple fact that Tyler Myers has the ability to dominate in the NHL because he’s 6 foot 8 inches tall without skates. This isn’t hard hitting analysis and by no means qualifies as a #hottake by any stretch of the imagination. It’s pretty much the most basic conclusion you can come to. My friend Josh (go follow him on Twitter, he’s funny and also sorta cool) could come to that conclusion and HE’S A BRUINS FAN (read: not smart).
Tonight we saw Tyler Myers play a relatively dominant game and this isn’t the first time it’s happened this year. He’s shown flashes of that prodigious rookie year all this season. Although his defensive game can leave a little to be desired, his offensive confidence has seen a dramatic increase from previous seasons. He’s carrying the puck with a swagger that we haven’t seen in a long time. He’s getting down into the dirty areas, willing to take the puck deep into the offensive zone and most importantly he’s making the smart play. He’s able to do all that because he’s basically on stilts out there. Myers at his best plays a fluid game with smooth skating and up-tempo offense. His long extremities allow him to do things that guys who are a foot shorter just simply can’t do. He can hold the puck so far out of because of his huge reach and he can skate so well because of his long legs. You understand what I’m saying.
The best thing it seems the LaFontaine-Nolan regime has done with Myers is really simple: they let him play his game. Myers made strides as a prospect because of his ability to skate and shoot and do it all within the confides of a massive frame. When he starts out of the defensive zone, by the time he hits the opposition’s blue line he’s flying in with powerful momentum. Often Myers will catch the defense flat footed. He’s at his best when he’s carrying the puck with confidence.
The biggest issue that previous coaches (and by that I pretty much mean Lindy Ruff) tried to instill in Myers was physicality. It doesn’t matter that he’s as hulking as he is, that’s just not how he plays. He’s more of an offensive defenseman than a shutdown big man. And frankly, trying to make him one was a slap in the face to refined skill-set he already had. You wouldn’t try to make Brian Gionta into Danny Briere just because he’s tiny. Most guys succeed in the NHL because they’ve mastered whatever style they’ve developed. Basically the Sabres tried to do something similar to teaching an old dog a new trick with Tyler Myers. Except this new trick was near sighted, totally counter intuitive and based off of a base-level analysis of his attributes. Again, big players aren’t just good at being physical. It becomes an advantage in so many facets. For Myers, it’s skating and puck possesion. You can’t take a puck away from a guy who’s dangling it away from you like a rabbit chasing a carrot on a stick.
So, I say to you Ted Nolan and the current regime: Good on you for letting Tyler Myers play his game. Let him take chances in the offensive zone. Let him receive beautiful passes from Brian Flynn when he jumps up in the rush. Let him try to get back into position after contributing on an offensive charge (Don’t worry, he will. After all, he can skate well enough to get back, remember?) . Let him do the all the things he’s good at and not the things you wish he was good at. But please remember, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. And you certainly can’t teach size.