Thursday, July 9, 2009

Talking Baby Sabres

So I went to prospect camp today. I'm not going to pretend to know enough to tell you who looked good and who didn't - it's hard to tell from some of those drills - but I did take a close look at Tyler Myers and I'm going to admit something that probably won't be very popular. I'm just not sure about bringing him up to the NHL level next season.

He looked really good. He can definitely skate, his positioning seemed sound (although I think we can agree that games are not like drills), and for someone still growing, he seems to have a good handle on his body. There's absolutely zero awkwardness about him. But he's very young. And he's very skinny. I watched a few of his games during the Memorial Cup and while it was clear that he was a stand-out, it was also clear that juniors is very, very different from the NHL. The NHL will be much faster and much more powerful. In street clothes, Myers is a bean pole even after putting on weight. I really question whether he's going to be ready to stand up to grown men with plenty of NHL experience.

I know Bucky Gleason has said many times that he doesn't see any reason not to play Myers up next season because hey, lots of teenagers have been successful in the NHL and then he reels off a list of people. First of all, I think any time a list starts with the name "Sidney Crosby" we have to stop and take into consideration that that's probably a pretty special group of players. Second of all, for every teenager that has come in and immediately been successful, there's a bunch of players who were brought up too young and who really struggled both with the NHL game and with the expectations heaped upon them. Some of them eventually straightened themselves out, but some of them had serious setbacks. Myers certainly isn't going to come in with Crosby level expectations, but he's not going to fly under the radar either, especially not in Buffalo. On one hand, fans are talking about being able to live with his mistakes, on the other hand they're talking about him being the next Zdeno Chara. Not even Zdeno Chara was Zdeno Chara until he was much older and physically mature than Myers is. Conventional wisdom has always been that defensemen mature more slowly than forwards.

Please remember he's just a baby giant.

If the Sabres start Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber and Chris Butler next season is Myers' inexperience going to make much difference to the on-ice product? Probably not. Even without him the defensive corp is going to be very young. But I'm not sure "How will it affect the team?" is as important a question as "How will it affect Myers?" How will he handle it if players are flying past him or pushing him around? How will he adapt to the opposition playing at a much higher skill level than his competition this past season? If he struggles, how will he deal with fans complaining - as you know they will - that he's not as good as they were led to believe? I think the Sabres have always had the right idea when it comes to bringing prospects along slowly, giving them time to grow up physically and mentally and emotionally. I know with the salary cap and the lower free agency age, that has to change some - you really have to take advantage of players while they're on their entry level contracts - and I know the Sabres are in a unique spot with Myers because he can't start in Portland which is what they would probably do with him if they could. I'm just not sure it's as simple as "Oh, what the hell, the team's gonna suck anyway."

Don't get me wrong. I like what I've seen of Myers. I love that he's said very directly that his goal is to make the Sabres and he doesn't see any reason why he can't. I hope he does make an immediate impact and I hope he does have the mental strength and maturity to know that struggling is just part of being a young defensemen in the NHL. But I do worry about him and I do worry that we're asking too much of him too soon.

On a totally different note, Kate and I have been arguing good-naturedly (mostly) about Chris Butler - or "Butts" as she's taken to calling him - for a number of months now. Unbeknownst to the other, we both started really taking a liking to him and she has repeatedly insisted that I can't like him, I have to like someone else. She's been very against him becoming next in line as my favorite player. (Hank will, of course, be number one as long as he's in Buffalo but I can count. If you add Weber and Myers to Tallinder, Lydman, Rivet, Sekera, Butler, Paetsch and Montador you end up with more d-men than you have spots. Someone's gotta go and a girl needs to be prepared for such things.) I assured her that no final decision had been made because I had really liked Weber on his call-up at the end of the 2007-2008 season and needed to see more of him.

Kate and I met up at prospect camp today and about halfway through, I turned to her and said, "I have to admit, I'm pretty drawn to Mike Weber." That beeyotch She didn't even attempt to hide her delight. But at any rate, it's true. There's just something about that kid that I really like and he looked very determined and sure of himself, as he should at this point.

After prospect camp, I went to the Bisons game. As I was making my way to the parking lot at the end of the night, I noticed a big tour bus outside the stadium. Didn't really look that closely at it, just figured it was a youth group or something. My phone buzzed so I looked down at it, continuing to walk, and I, of course, bumped into someone. I said, "Oh, excuse me," and looked up and it was... Mike Weber! That focused my brain and I realized all the baby Sabres were getting on the big bus. Mike nodded and said, "No problem." But I think it's a sign that I made the right choice. It's like Kate said (again, gleefully), he pretty much chose ME. How can I refuse?

"Please pick me, please pick me, please pick me, Heather B."


Katebits said...


I agree with you about Tyler Myers, but maybe for different reasons. I'm hugely annoyed by any plan from Darcy which relies on a teenager to be NHL ready. I feel like we've been crossing our fingers and hoping kids pan out for two years now. It's time to get us some freaking NHL players, Darcy.

Mark B said...

Everything you've said about Tyler is rational and well thought out. But it depresses me. The possibility of the big guy being in the lineup is the main thing that keeps me excited about the Sabres right now. Basically because this team looks the same if not worse than last year on paper. Sad, but true.

Now if Darcy will actually make some changes before September, I may feel differently.

Caroline said...

I think the Sabres are ready commit to Myers because he has already learned and developed as much as he is going to in Kelowna and they feel as though he just isn't going to develop any more in the WHL. I haven't seen him play, but from what I've heard from people who have, apparently he just looks miles ahead of the players (and not because of his height lol) and he's already playing 30+ min a night.

I guess the Sabres think he's worth the risk. He's 19 and I'm sure they're prepared for him to make typical rookie mistakes, but I think they feel as if those mistakes are worth it if he needs to take the next step in his career in order to ensure his developement because I believe he's a potential number 1 defenseman once he develops.

I have high hopes for him, but at the same time I realize he is just 19 and I'm not expecting him to be our savior at the blueline (yet). But obviously the Sabres saw something in him early enough that they decided to sign him to an entry-level contract and see what he can do in the NHL, because apparently he's done all that he's needed to do in the WHL.

Shelby Rose said...

It would be very convenient for the Sabres if Myers would've been able to be in Portland this upcoming year. I have personally thought about Myers making the jump right away, but after reading your post, I'm looking at it differently now. It isn't Darcy's style to have kids make the jump right away without spending some time in the minors, to go through all the things that happen there. Team bonding, road trips, three games in four nights. If it's going to be better for Myers to stay in junior for one more season, then go to the minors the season after, then I would rather have it that way then have him up here straightaway.

I pretty much agree with Caroline's comments. I have high hopes for the guy too after having a stellar year in juniors but I'm not sure now if he's ready for the jump just yet.

Vanek's Hair said...

I am 100% in agreement with you that Myers should stay in juniors and develop, not only his hockey playing ability, but also his frame. I can't imagine a guy that tall, at that age being at the appropriate stage of physical development to take the grind that is an NHL season. Too bad he cannot sign with Portland and work back and forth. There is still time, because I don't think the guy is hitting UFA status next July or anything.

I like Weber a lot. He impressed me in his brief stints in the 2007-2008 season. As an aside, I completely forgot that it was two seasons ago that he saw action. I guess the past two seasons have run together into one boring mess at this point.

And I known Top Shelf was doing a live remote from camp, I would have made the five minute drive to give a Vanek's Hair exclusive interview. Not that anyone would be interested in that.

Heather B. said...

Caroline, I'm sure the the "WHL or NHL?" question is contributing greatly to Myers probably being pushed up. I only saw him in a few Kelowna games so I'm certainly not saying I'm an expert, but he did stand out. There probably is a very good chance that he's developed all he's going to skills-wise down there. But going from Kelowna to Buffalo is a huge jump. I just think it's unfortunate that he's going to have to do one or the other as Portland is really probably the best choice for him right now. Even if he pulled a Chris Butler and only played in the AHL for a few months before getting called up, at least we would know - and he would know - he'd been successful on another step along the way. And as much as I hate to be pessimistic, I'm not sure he is going to pull a Chris Butler. Butler is three years older than him and wasn't dealing with the physical issues Myers is.

It really is his frame and physical stature that concerns me the most. I cannot stress to those of you who haven't seen him in person how very thin he is. I think there's a very good reason that there aren't many defensemen on the list of teenagers who have come in and made an immediate impact in the NHL.

Kate, I hear you but in fairness, everyone wants/needs a shut-down d-man who can also maybe man the point on the power play. They're not the easy to get if you don't already have them. The last couple of years we were mostly relying on young players who had been in the NHL for a time which a lot of teams do, especially in the cap era (it just hasn't worked out as well for us :P). This year we're potentially looking at a number of kids who have very little NHL experience being contributors. (But I do understand what you're saying!)

On a totally different note, I'm very interested to see how the fans and media who are currently saying, "Let them play and live with their mistakes, the team isn't winning anyway" are going to be responding in February when a team full of struggling babies is a reality rather than just a concept. Weber, Butler, Sekera and Myers have an average age of 21.25 and have played 178 NHL games combined (and 108 of those are Sekera's). If three or four of them are in our starting six, the chances are very good that we're going to see some ugly defensive games. I don't wanna hear any of those people complaining then, "Wow, why are we playing all these damn kids?" :P

I don't really mean to sound pessimistic. I like all the baby d-men discussed here and I think they have the potential to be a good, solid group. I'm just leery about expecting too much of them too soon especially as a unit and I do wonder how Myers in particular is going to handle any setbacks.

Heather B. said...

Vanek's Hair, I totally would have taken you up on the offer of an exclusive. I'll have to remember that for next season.

Kate, as an addition, considering his history with prospects, even the very best ones, I would guess that Darcy is reluctant to throw a teenager into the NHL. I think if Portland were an option, that's where Myers would be, no matter how much fans and media are clamoring for him to be on the big team. The fact that he can't play in Portland this year is a thorny thing. I mean, obviously I haven't spoken to Darcy about this issue or anything but historically, he's been very cautious with prospects.