December 13, 2019

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New team, new outlook

Former Jets defenceman Tyler Myers loving life as a Canuck... but thanks for asking

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck</p><p>Defenceman Tyler Myers signed a five-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks in July.</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Defenceman Tyler Myers signed a five-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks in July.

Tyler Myers was all for a major move, particularly when he finally had a say on where the road would lead.

Now, months after taking full advantage of his first crack at unrestricted free agency, the ex-Winnipeg Jets defenceman doesn't even try to temper his enthusiasm of being one of the new faces on the upstart Vancouver Canucks.

"It's going really well, thanks for asking. It's been everything we'd hoped for," Myers told the Free Press earlier this week. "It's been pretty seamless coming here. It’s always tough leaving guys from your previous team. That was the hardest part when I left Buffalo and it was the same leaving Winnipeg.

"But when I jumped in the room in Vancouver, the guys welcomed all of us new guys very quickly and the transition was very easy. It was nice to come in and have it feel natural."

Myers, who turns 30 in February, returns to Winnipeg on Friday night as the Canucks and Jets collide at Bell MTS Place. Game time is 7 p.m.

After spending parts of five at-times trying seasons with the Jets, Myers headed west, signing a five-year contract worth an average annual value of US$6 million. It was, perhaps, the least surprising news to come out of the July 1 free-agent frenzy, as it was no secret the towering, mobile blue-liner was at the top of Vancouver general manager Jim Benning's wish list.

Indeed, it's a significant number, and the cash-strapped Jets were in no position to offer the same money and term, particularly for a player who wasn't on their top duo and, for long stretches, was cast as a third-pairing defenceman.

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff made only a perfunctory inquiry about his desire to remain in Winnipeg during exit interviews after the club bowed out to the St. Louis Blues in the opening round of the playoffs, said Myers, who was born in Houston but grew up in the Calgary area.

"They expressed some interest, but once (the meeting) was over there wasn’t much communication after that," he said. "The sense was it was coming to an end. I had communicated that things had gone well with my time in Winnipeg and if there was a spot for me, I’d be happy to talk about re-signing. I found out in the weeks after the season ended it was looking like free agency was going to be my route, and Vancouver, ultimately, ended up being the best fit for me. That’s the business part of the game."

Those who watched a lot of Myers since his arrival in February 2015 in the blockbuster trade that sent Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to the Sabres likely viewed his deal as an overpayment by the Canucks. In Winnipeg, he showed flashes of his former Calder Trophy form (in 2010 he was the NHL's rookie of the year) and his offensive numbers were solid.

However, his defensive deficiencies were hard to ignore.

For a giant on skates, Myers (6-8, 229 pounds) was passive at defending the space in front of the net, turned the puck over with frequency and was caught chasing opponents' talented forwards for extended stretches. Those significant problems were a byproduct of the fact he spent the majority of his time at even strength playing alongside Dmitry Kulikov, whose struggles in his own end are apparent.

Myers' most effective tool was his massive range — when his gap was off, he had that reach to fall back on. And his offensive output made up for some of his shortcomings. In his final two seasons in Winnipeg, Myers posted six goals and 30 assists in 2017-18 and nine goals and 22 helpers in 2018-19.

He scored four times during the Jets' terrific post-season run in 2018, including a memorable tally in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinal in Nashville. His innocent shot from the corner slipped between goalie Pekka Rinne's skate and the post to open the scoring and helped propel the visitors to a 5-1 victory and a series win over the Predators.

While he has four assists through 15 games with the Canucks, it appears Myers is earning his keep with his new team, currently second in the Pacific Division at 9-3-3 after a 2-1 overtime loss Tuesday night to the visiting Blues.

He's on the right side of the No. 1 tandem with Alex Edler and is averaging almost 22 minutes of ice time per game. The veteran duo is showing strong possession numbers with a 57.7 per cent Corsi rating — simply put, they help the Canucks create more scoring chances than they allow in their own end.

"The fit has gone really well to start the year. Eddie and I have done a lot of talking on and off the ice to get our communication the best that it can be, and I think it’s gotten better and better as the season’s gone on here. It’s been pretty easy and we’re just trying to work as hard as we can to try and make that adjustment as quick as possible," he said.

While frustrated by his lack of production, Myers is buoyed by the knowledge the chances continue to come.

On Tuesday, he had Vancouver's two best opportunities to score in overtime. On the first, he fired from the slot but was denied by St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington. On the second, he went from potential hero to inadvertent goat when he shot wide and then collided with teammate J.T. Miller, allowing the Blues to scamper away on 3-on-0 breakaway. After a few slick passes, Jaden Schwartz ended things.

"I’ve been really happy with my offensive game. The opportunities are there and they’re going to start going in. I’m not worried about that," said Myers, who also plays on the second power-play unit and kills penalties. "We have a really good group dynamic going right now and it’s just a matter of keeping it going. Goals and points and stuff like that will come."

Off the ice, life is good for the married father of a young son, soon to be three years old. His wife, Michela, has family in the Vancouver area, and the couple keeps a home in Kelowna, where Myers played four years of junior in the WHL. He was selected by the Buffalo Sabres in the first round (12th overall) of the 2008 NHL draft.

Myers said he treasures the time his family spent in the Manitoba capital.

"We have a lot of good memories from Winnipeg, especially the playoff run we had a few years ago. That whole month and a half was really special to go through with that group of guys. It provided a lot of experience for all of us to kind of realize what it takes to win," said Myers. "My whole time in Winnipeg, the almost five years I was there, I’ll always cherish. We had a great group in the room and I wish those guys all the best — just not when I’m playing against them.

"I keep in touch with the some of the guys but it’s a lot of family talk. It’s not hockey-related talk. I’m excited to get back there. Any time you play against your old team, you want to try and get a win out of it. But it will be good to go up against the guys again and visit after the game."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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