Phil Myers kept getting better during the regular season, and the Flyers’ rookie defenseman hasn’t skipped a beat in his initial appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Myers scored a key goal in the Flyers’ 2-0 playoff win Tuesday over Montreal and played solid defense with his partner, Travis Sanheim. They form a No. 2 pairing that coach Alain Vigneault is not reluctant to use against opponents’ top lines.
“There’s no doubt Phil has taken strides this year, and he’s an important player on this team,” Vigneault said before Game 5 against the Canadiens on Wednesday.
In the Flyers’ first seven postseason games, including three in the round-robin tournament, the 6-foot-5, 218-pound Myers had two goals and a team-best plus-7 ranking, which was tied for third in the NHL.
Known as “Leaf Eater” by teammate Kevin Hayes (”He’s just really tall, and giraffes eat leaves,” Hayes explained), Myers is part of a defense that entered Wednesday allowing a league-low 1.29 goals per game during the postseason.
During the regular season, Myers had four goals and 16 points in 50 games, and his plus-17 rating was second on the team (behind Sean Couturier’s plus-21) and tied for second among NHL rookies.
Now that he has seen Myers for a season, Vigneault was asked if he was surprised the lanky defenseman was bypassed in the 2015 draft.
“I have no idea. I don’t know how he played in junior,” said Vigneault, who first met Myers (along with Carter Hart and Sean Couturier) when he directed Team Canada during the IIHF World Championship in Slovakia 15 months ago.
“I do know that since I’ve seen him for a year … I’ve seen a young man work hard and improve his game. Like a lot of other young D’s, I think we’re scratching the surface. I don’t think that he’s reached his full potential.”
In his draft year, Myers was unpolished. He had just eight points in 60 games with Rouyn-Noranda in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
He did receive an invitation to Calgary’s development camp, but the Flames didn’t offer him a contract. A few months later, Ron Hextall, then the Flyers’ general manager, signed the free agent after he opened eyes at their training camp.
Myers then went back to Rouyn-Noranda and, perhaps because he gained confidence from his entry-level contract or he got stronger from intense summer workouts, had a breakout season with 17 goals – 15 more than his previous year – and 45 points.
Along his path to the NHL, Myers overcame a concussion and hip and groin surgeries. Still, he continued to improve. He spent two full seasons with the AHL’s Phantoms and, now, at 23, is among the league’s most promising young defensemen.
“For him to reach his full potential, a lot of it is going to have to do with himself figuring it out, working extremely hard, putting the time, work, and preparation that is needed to become the best you can be,” Vigneault said.
Myers, who was recalled from the Phantoms on Oct. 31 and spent the rest of the season with the Flyers, is on the right course. Just ask the general managers who are kicking themselves for not selecting him in the draft.