Tyler Myers talked openly, radiating contentment and a bit of relief, on Monday following a morning skate at the Iceplex with most of his teammates.
The Winnipeg Jets defenceman says he’s confident his body has healed, adding he's primed and ready for the NHL club’s official training camp, which begins with medicals Thursday.
Most importantly, his young son, Tristan, is healthy too.
"Growing like a weed," said the proud papa. "He’s doing well."
Indeed, it’s a blessing considering the struggles the little guy went through after he was born five weeks premature in January.
Understandably, very little of the family struggle Tyler and his wife, Michela, went through at the time was made public. It was later reported Tristan had been delivered by emergency C-section and was born without about 80 per cent of his blood due to a fetal maternal hemorrhage.
For days, the situation was life and death as the newborn received blood transfusions and stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit. Tristan also suffered through seizures and a stroke.
Thankfully, several weeks later he had recovered to a point where the new parents could finally take their son home.
"It was tough but he’s a little fighter, he got through it and everything’s looking up now," said Myers, of his now eight-month-old son.
It was a distressing season for the veteran defenceman, who suited up for just 11 games during the 2016-17 campaign. He scored a pair of goals in the first eight games of the season, missed five contests with a lower-body injury, returned and provided three assists in three games and then was forced out of the lineup again.
The 6-8, 230-pound Myers, who hails from Houston, Tex., is looking for a bounce-back campaign after the season of recurring hip and groin problems.
"Obviously, it was a tough year being out as long as I was and with other things going on," he said. "It’s a great feeling to be skating with the guys again."
Jets head coach Paul Maurice reiterated Monday that Myers will get a green light for training camp, but acknowledged caution will be taken to ensure the towering D-man doesn’t have a setback.
"We’re going to be careful because over the last three months he wasn’t going at 100 per cent… we may keep him out of certain things," he said. "I’d like to get him into an exhibition game fairly early just to get him back into game speed, but we’re going to let him kind of tell us how he’s feeling in terms of where he goes in."
Myers' absence and injuries to Toby Enstrom, who missed a total of 22 games, ripped holes in the Jets defensive core that were difficult to plug. By season's end, Winnipeg had allowed 256 pucks to enter its net, fourth-most in the NHL, an ugly stat blamed on defensive miscues, poor goaltending, undisciplined play and a below-average penalty kill.
Myers was on the club’s final road trip to St. Louis and Columbus in May, saying then he was ready and willing to play. The club had other ideas, and Myers altered his focus to be prepared for the fall.
"I would have loved to be able to come back, even if it was just for one at the end but that’s not the way it worked out. I had a good summer of working hard to get back and feeling good coming into camp and I’ll continue to work hard to feel even better," he said.
Myers joins a defensive unit that includes Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Dmitry Kulikov and Ben Chiarot. Kulikov, a Russian-born, left-shooting blue-liner, was signed July 1 to a three-year US$13-million contract.
Gone from the mix is Mark Stuart and Paul Postma, while Julian Melchiori and Nelson Nogier are destined to begin with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.
"The depth that we have now on the back end with some of the moves we made this summer, bringing in Kuli and even our young guys that are fighting for spots, too, it’s exciting to see," said Myers, who has 59 goals and 139 assists in 473 NHL games.
He came to Winnipeg in the mega-trade that saw Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian shipped to Buffalo during the 2014-15 season.
"Whenever you have that much depth on the back end, it’s a good sign that you have a good team. But this league is so close. You gotta come together as players and execute," he said.
"You look at our goals-for, goals-against last year. We didn’t have a problem scoring goals. We have so much fire power that’s the least of our worries. When I talk about tweaking a few things, part of that is keeping the puck out of the net."
Morrissey said the addition of a healthy Myers is akin to management making a major off-season acquisition.
"He’s a special player. He’s someone who does things that not many guys can do, at his size, at both ends of the ice, offensively and defensively," said Morrissey. "For us to see (Myers) healthy coming in here is awesome… just happy that he’s back and want him to have a great year. It’s huge for us to add (him) back."