In his news conference after being fired last December as the Flyers’ general manager, Ron Hextall proclaimed no bitterness.
He would still root for the team he assembled, he said. He would still hope that what he and scouting director Chris Pryor had started would blossom into the elite team he envisioned when he embarked on what turned out to be an aborted plan.
Perhaps the best evidence of his sincerity came this spring, after Team Canada’s blue line was hit with injuries early in the World Championships in Slovakia.
One of three men overseeing Team Canada, Hextall called Flyers rookie defenseman Phil Myers, veteran of 21 NHL games, to fill in, thus giving new Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault an early look at one of the players he would have to lead this fall.
It also gave Myers, an undrafted find who has emerged as one of the Flyers’ most touted prospects, a first look at the coach who will be in charge as the player attempts to parlay the promise of those 21 games into a regular NHL role.
"I hadn’t really trained or skated in a month,’’ Myers said from his home in Moncton, New Brunswick. "I had no idea. I was as surprised as anybody. I had to think about it.
"[Hextall] said, `We really need you up here’ and I was sold after that. It was nice to meet Alain and start our relationship up there. And it was also nice to meet some of the guys from around the league. A real positive experience for me.’’
Especially since he gained Vigneault’s trust as the tournament went on. By the time Canada played the championship game against Finland, Myers’ ice time was up over 14 minutes.
It’s that type of trajectory that suggests a quicker learning curve for Myers than for other defensemen. He’s fast, he’s big (6-5, 210), and he has shown smarts that belie both his experience and age.
"Obviously I have a lot more confidence now,’’ he said. "I’m bigger. Stronger. I learned a lot over the last couple of years. Nothing’s given. Everything is earned. I want to have a bigger role next year. And to do that, I’ve got to show up ready to play at camp.’’
Myers had a goal and an assist over those 21 games with the Flyers from February on, and he had a lone assist in the seven games with Team Canada. But for now, the better measurement is in the trust he earns. He gained minutes from Scott Gordon quickly, and from Vigneault just as quickly.
"I’m a really big fan of his work so far,’’ Myers said of the new Flyers coach. "It was nice to feel as if I gained the coach’s confidence. And I felt that.’’
"Confidence is key for anyone coming up,’’ said former Flyers defenseman Kjell Samuelsson, now a developmental coach with the organization. “But for a defenseman, the higher you go, the more visible your mistakes are. If you’re a left winger and you make a mistake, there’s enough guys who can cover it up. But if you’re a defenseman making the same mistake over and over again, it’s more visible to everybody.”
Myers said he has spent the last two years eliminating those mistakes. Sometimes it leads to a simple- looking game. But for now, simple is strength.
“For him to be a consistent defenseman, he doesn’t have to complicate the game,” Samuelsson said. "He has to be pretty simple and move the puck up and let the game come to him. That’s because he doesn’t have the experience yet. … Be a very good defender, and a very good puck mover out of the zone.
"He does that, everything else will fall into place for him.’’