BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Defenseman Tyler Myers is off to such a successful start in his rookie season that Buffalo Sabres captain Craig Rivet has devised a way to cash in, too.
Every time Rivet is asked to assess his teammate’s play, Myers owes him $5.
So before a reporter could even finish a question about Myers this week, Rivet looked to the 6-foot-8 defenseman across the locker room and yelled out: “Hey, Mysie! Chalk it up, bud.”
By Rivet’s count, he’s up $275 since informally becoming Myers’ P.R. man two months ago, when he started getting more questions about the player. And with the way Myers has blossomed into one of NHL’s top rookies this season, there’s no telling how large the payoff might be.
Money aside, Rivet acknowledges he doesn’t need any incentives to talk up Myers.
“Yeah, he’s the real deal,” he said. “He’s proven that not only can he play in this league, but to be an impact player. And he’s shown that right from day one.”
Myers blushed when asked about his mounting debt to Rivet.
“He’s serious about it. I’m sure I’m going to have to pay him,” he said. “It’s stacking up pretty quick.”
So are Myers’ numbers.
With 26 points (six goals and 20 assists) in 44 games, Myers ranks sixth among rookies and first among first-year defensemen. He also leads Sabres players and NHL rookies in averaging 23:10 minutes per game.
And to think, the Sabres opened the season wondering whether it would be better for Myers to keep developing in the Canadian junior ranks.
That discussion is long forgotten, and became moot when Myers’ NHL contract kicked in once he played his 10th game with Buffalo.
“When you look at the way he’s played, he’s earned every minute,” coach Lindy Ruff said, but not without adding a few words of caution regarding a player who’s three weeks shy of turning 20.
“I don’t want to get too excited,” Ruff said. “Now he’s got to get through the heavy grind of the second half of the NHL season with a lot of travel. It’s just another test for a young man that’s in his first year.”
The Sabres are coming off a four-day break and prepare to open a seven-game, two-week road swing that opens in Atlanta on Thursday.
After two years of missing the playoffs, the Northeast Division-leading Sabres (28-11-5) have rebounded to rank second in the Eastern Conference.
Though goaltender Ryan Miller is getting most of the credit for the Sabres resurgence, Myers is playing a notable role. He’s a regular on both power-play and penalty-killing units, and joins Henrik Tallinder as the team’s top defensive tandem.
Myers is attracting additional buzz because of how quickly he’s adapted to playing at the NHL level despite his long, lean frame — he’s the league’s second-tallest player behind Boston’s Zdeno Chara.
Nicknamed ‘Big Easy,’ Myers has a fluid skating style, is a deft stick-handler and proven unafraid of carrying the puck into traffic. His long reach has come in handy on the forecheck and breaking up odd-man rushes.
Adjusting to his size has long been an issue, Myers said. He recalled feeling fatigued whenever his body was going through a growth spurt.
“I always knew when I was growing. There was about a week or two where I felt I lost that coordination,” he said. “But it seems like it’s slowing down, and I’m at the end here.”
And his career is just beginning.
“He’s got all the tools,” Rivet said. “His upside is absolutely endless. And it’s going to be exciting to watch him in years to come.”
Myers has played so well, it’s difficult to pinpoint his best game.
He had has two three-point games already, including scoring twice and adding an assist in a 3-2 win over Toronto last week. Myers had back-to-back games of logging more than 28 minutes of ice time last month, including a season-best 28:32 in a 2-0 loss to Ottawa. And in a 3-0 win over Washington on Dec. 9, Myers played a key role in helping shut down Alex Ovechkin.
“It feels great. I’m having the time of my life,” Myers said. “I came to Buffalo at the start to compete for a spot on the team. And after that, when I found out I was going to stay, I wanted more.”