Dynamic defensive duo takes shape at Jets training camp

There’s an experimental element to the coupling of Tyler Myers and Dustin Byfuglien, but it’s not exactly like splitting the atom, says one half of the Winnipeg Jets prodigious defensive duo.

Myers, who wields a right-handed stick, is handling left-side duties in a pairing with Byfuglien in the initial stages of the NHL club’s training camp at the Iceplex.

The 28-year-old Texan has played his off side before, as recently as the tail end of the 2017-18 season when he and big No.33 played together when head coach Paul Maurice shortening his bench as a safeguard in tight contests.

Myers didn’t, if memory serves, trip over his enormous skates or slam face-first into the boards making the wrong turn, although it’s seems only natural a guy would feel slightly uncomfortableness making the switch. But the 6-8, 230-pound blue-liner said he’s experienced no major hiccups crossing over, and looked at ease during fast-paced drills Sunday — Myers’ first regular skate after missing Saturday’s on-ice session with a minor ache.

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There’s an experimental element to the coupling of Tyler Myers and Dustin Byfuglien, but it’s not exactly like splitting the atom, says one half of the Winnipeg Jets prodigious defensive duo.

Myers, who wields a right-handed stick, is handling left-side duties in a pairing with Byfuglien in the initial stages of the NHL club’s training camp at the Iceplex.

The 28-year-old Texan has played his off side before, as recently as the tail end of the 2017-18 season when he and big No.33 played together when head coach Paul Maurice shortening his bench as a safeguard in tight contests.

Myers didn’t, if memory serves, trip over his enormous skates or slam face-first into the boards making the wrong turn, although it’s seems only natural a guy would feel slightly uncomfortableness making the switch. But the 6-8, 230-pound blue-liner said he’s experienced no major hiccups crossing over, and looked at ease during fast-paced drills Sunday — Myers’ first regular skate after missing Saturday’s on-ice session with a minor ache.

“There’s a couple different angles. But I got a little bit of action on the left side last year. It’s still the same game. I’m not going to overthink it too much,” he said. “I’m excited to play with the big man and we’ll be a pretty big pairing out there.

“I think it has a lot of potential. Both of us are pretty big guys (and) take up a lot of space. Just trying make it work as best we can.”

Myers, beginning his fourth full season in a Jets jersey, was given ample warning from Maurice about a potential partnership with Byfulgien.

“So, this would be something that happened in pieces. We would use Tyler and Dustin together at the end of games, depending on what side the faceoff was, if he wanted two righties, some shutdown guys or if we thought, based on the other team, we needed some size in front of our net to end a game,” Maurice explained. “So, it wasn’t brand new. Tyler and I had that conversation right at the end of last season.”

Added Myers:

“We had talked about it at the exit meeting last year that it was a possibility. I did some things this summer to work on getting used to different angles on the left side. It’s Day 1 together, I thought it felt natural (so) just continue to get more reps in and make it a comfortable feeling.”

While the 6-5, 250-pound Byfuglien’s been a roving rearguard from the moment he arrive in Winnipeg, Myers — the NHL’s Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year in (2010) when he played in Buffalo — has always had a penchant for injecting himself into the rush.

Myers said there’s work to do to ensure protecting the homefront remains a priority.

“We’re two guys that like to get up the ice, so I think we’re going to push the pace really well. We’re going to have to make sure we’re always backing each other up,” he said. “But I thought it worked really well at the end of the year last year (and) just try and carry that over.”

Maurice accepts wandering is an inevitable part of the pairing’s hockey DNA.

“They will always switch off. They’re smart, responsible players. Dustin was so good last year picking the right spot. They want to win hockey games. I’m not overly concerned about that,” he said. “Once in a while you’re going to see them lead the rush. I mean there will actually be video of them leading the rush, because they both spotted the exact same thing in the offensive zone, spotted a hole and found themselves in the middle. We’ll just get them to lock arms and then they can cover the whole width of the ice, anyways.”

Myers had a comeback season, of sorts, in 2017-18, playing a full 82-game slate after suiting up for just 11 during a trying season, on and off the ice, in ’16-17. His offensive production spiked to 36 points (6G, 30A), his highest total since his sophomore season (2010-11) with the Sabres (10G, 27A).

The previous season was, indeed, a distressing time for him, both as a father and hockey player. He and his wife, Michela, dealt with the premature birth of their son, Tristan, who experienced life-threatening health complications. Thankfully, the youngster pulled through and will turn two this coming January.

Compounding matters was the fact Myers was also sidelined for most ’16-17 season to recurring hip and groin problems.

Myers was selected by the Winnipeg chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association as the Jets’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy last spring. The Masterton Trophy is awarded each season to the NHL player who best exemplifies qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

“It was great to get all the games in, but the strides that I’ve seen with our family and our little guy, that’s made things really excting for my wife and I. It’s nice to have it in the past, for sure, but last year was a great year on a lot of different fronts and hoping to build off it this year.”

Myers is in the final year of a seven-year, US$38.5 million that carries an annual average value of US$5.5 million. While he’s huge part of the Jets defensive scheme, the club’s anticipated cash crunch next summer with new deals due to defenceman Jacob Trouba and wingers Patrik Laine and Kyle Connors could make it difficult to retain him.

Myers has a desire to stay and prefers discussions on a contract extension begin soon.

“I would definitely welcome to start talking. I would love to be here and I think I’ve said that from Day 1. We’ve got a really special group of guys here in the room. It’s been great to be a part of and I’d love to be a part of it going into the future,” he said.

Myers said he doesn’t waste time assessing the Jets payroll and how he fits in.

“That’s Chevy’s job. I don’t worry about it too much. The steps that we took last year on the ice, I think that would be most guys’ focus coming into this year.”

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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