In October, rookie Phil Myers was demoted to the minors and wasn’t on the opening-night roster. This month, he became the first Flyers defenseman in 32 years to score a goal in three straight games, a feat last accomplished by Hall of Famer Mark Howe.
“Pretty crazy,” Myers said.
This is pretty crazy, too: Myers, despite his size, speedy skating ability, and athleticism, was somehow bypassed by every team in the 2015 NHL draft. He would have been a first-round selection the next year, draft experts say, if the Flyers had not signed him in 2015 as a free agent.
Now he’s making a lot of NHL general managers and scouting directors look, well, a little silly, for not choosing him in 2015. A series of nagging injuries probably had an effect, but it’s still surprising that no one took him in a late round.
Myers, 22, has become one of the Flyers’ top four defensemen, and it’s not a stretch to think about his being on the No. 1 pairing in the next year or two. Oddly, he did not play Saturday, but is expected to return to the lineup Tuesday in Florida.
In training camp, Myers pressed a bit and did not play as well as he did in a 21-game stint with the Flyers late last season. Still, he was clearly ahead of Samuel Morin. But Morin, a former first-round draft selection who has since torn the ACL (again) in his right knee, had to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL’s Phantoms. Myers had options, so he went down.
Myers returned after just six games — he had four points and was plus- 8 — with Lehigh Valley.
“Right now, it makes it just feel that much better to be here,” Myers said the other day. “It’s made me appreciate everything a little more. Sort of a wake-up call. I think I was trying to force plays a little bit in the preseason. I’ve been trying to keep it simple and let the game come to me a little more.”
In eight games with the Flyers this season, the 6-foot-5, 218-pound Myers has three goals, four points, and a team-best plus-7 rating.
“His gap is better,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “Because of his size, he’s got such a long reach, and when you have a better gap, you create more turnovers. He’s been effective for us. He’s showed poise with the puck — not just in the offensive zone but in our end and in certain pressure situations. He’s a young player who is scratching the surface, and he has to work real hard to be the best player he can be.”
Like most of his teammates, Myers has also shown good discipline. Heading into Saturday, he had just two penalty minutes this season despite being in the middle of a slew of puck battles out front.
“I’m trying to play hard and be smart at the same time,” said Myers, 22. “Just trying to be a [pain] to play against and not be fun to play against. I want to be hard to play against. Just taking time and space away from guys, and that makes it hard on them.”
Myers, who has been paired with Travis Sanheim, said he was “obviously happy” to contribute offensively.
“I’m not trying to do everything on my own. I’ve been seeing the opportunities are there and I’ve been capitalizing on them, which is nice to see," he said. "I’m just trying to keep it simple, really, and play a good two-way game. Like I’ve been saying, if you play well defensively, the rest will take care of itself.”
The Flyers have been operating with a 1-2-2 alignment, compared with the 1-3-1 they used in the second half of last season. The alignment has given them more speed going through the neutral zone, and having an extra defenseman stay back has given the goalies more help. The goaltenders, Carter Hart and Brian Elliott, have also done their part.
Entering Saturday’s game with the Islanders, the Flyers were allowing 2.79 goals per game (ninth in the NHL), marked improvement over their final total last season (3.41, 29th).
“It’s all about sticking together and believing in each other,” said Myers, whose team entered Saturday on a 5-1-2 run since a 7-1 thrashing by Pittsburgh. “I think we’ve done a really good job of that so far this year. We just have to stick with it and keep the same mentality and not be intimidated by anybody.”