They have so much in common, Tyler Myers and Erik Karlsson, and yet so little.
In the 2008 draft held in Ottawa, Myers, the 6-8 defenceman from Houston whose smooth stride belies his size, was selected by the Buffalo Sabres 12th overall. Just three picks later, Karlsson’s name was dramatically announced by countryman and Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. The slender Swede, not quite six-feet tall and about 160 pounds at the time, strode to the stage with a confident swagger.
From there, the two defencemen have taken very different and perhaps instructive paths – Myers stormed onto the NHL arena, winning the Calder Trophy as the top NHL rookie in 2009-10 with 48 points and a plus 13; his first season a dream season.
Meanwhile, Karlsson, an effortless skater with exceptional offensive skill, struggled in his first NHL games, especially in his own zone, needed a dozen games at the AHL level and returned to the Senators a better player.
Today, that early snapshot of their careers looks like misidentification.
In his fourth NHL season, after two fractures wrecked much of 2011-12, Myers, by his own admission, is struggling to find his game. Tuesday night, he often fought the puck and shot it into shin pads, including at the Ottawa blueline on a power play.
Karlsson, in contrast, is breathing rarefied air, by all accounts a legitimate league superstar, the reigning Norris Trophy winner who is clearly at another level today than he was when he won the award as the NHL’s top defenceman last June.
Did those early missteps help Karlsson be the player he is today? Would Myers have benefited from some early setbacks, instead of finding so much success so quickly and then signing a seven-year, $38.5 million contract in 2011? A year later, Karlsson hit the jackpot himself in Las Vegas, cashing in with a seven-year, $45.5 million deal shortly after receiving the Norris.
The money has not affected Karlsson’s game, and Myers says likewise about his long-term deal.
“There’s so many things I have to focus on in my game that I don’t really have time to think about that,” Myers says. “It’s only natural to want to do more as a player, no matter what your contract is.”
Karlsson, 22, says he still has lots to learn, despite pulling down 28 minutes a night, a plus four after the Buffalo game, where he opened the scoring with a power play goal, a simple wrist shot through a crowd for his fourth of the season.
“My stick breaks on slapshots,” Karlsson told Ian Mendes of Sportsnet after the first period, “so I’m going to try to get away from that.”
So, what part of Karlsson’s game possibly needs work?
“Just the overall game, being in certain situations, and being out there a lot — there’s always stuff to work on,” Karlsson says.
Karlsson is nothing if not dripping with confidence. Across the ice, Myers is visibly struggling to regain that comfortable feeling he had when he was an 18-year-old in the NHL, too young to know fear.
After a 6-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, in which he was a minus-3 and played fewer than 17 minutes, Myers kicked his hockey bag in disgust. A day later, he bounced back to an even plus-minus in nearly 20 minutes of ice time during a 4-3 Sabres loss to Florida.
“This has not been the best start for me,” Myers told the Citizen before the game in Ottawa, “but finally I’ve nailed down what I have to do to start getting back to my game. I thought last game was a big step for me getting back to where I know I can be.”
You may have used this expression before, but Myers says he needs to “simplify” his game, stop trying to be all-world all the time.
“Yeah, I always want to do more. I think it’s natural for guys to want to do more. But I have to focus on what allows me to have success. It seems really easy to have a mindset of defence-first, but I think I got away from that a little bit.”
‘Defence first’ was not in evidence against the Senators, not when backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth was leaky early. As for Myers, he escaped damage in Ottawa’s three-goal first period, but was on for Chris Neil’s goal from the high slot in the second to give the home side a 4-1 lead, dropping Myers to -7 on the year. With the Sabres, he has lots of company in the minus department.
For Karlsson, it was just another night of wheeling and dealing, playing about half the game.
“Once you get used to it (playing a lot of minutes) it’s actually easier, but you’ve got to try and keep your body in shape and stay on top of everything,” Karlsson says. “Eat well and sleep well and hopefully that’s the key for being able to play.
These days, we’re guessing Karlsson sleeps more soundly than Myers.