It’s really amazing what an environment can do for a player.
Take Tyler Myers.
Lots of things happen when the giant defenceman, known affectionately as the Chaos Giraffe, steps on the ice.
He has long been good at getting the puck up the ice, but also had moments of difficulty in his own end.
When he joined the Canucks five years ago, the Benning-Green Canucks believed he would buttress the team’s defence corps.
They didn’t expect that the corps would instead winnow away around him.
When he has been a depth player in a defensive group, he’s always done well. When he’s been leaned on too much, he has struggled.
And if the team has no system at all, he really struggles.
There were times in the previous two or three seasons that his game felt like it was underwater, as he was leaned on to be a player he wasn’t really designed to be.
Since the arrival of Rick Tocchet and his assistants Adam Foote and Sergei Gonchar a year ago, Myers’ game has steadied. Just judging by fan reaction, there is a lot less negativity around the player.
One factor in this, surely, is he is being asked to play less.
This season, he’s averaging just over 19 minutes per game, the first time in his career that he has been under the 20-minute mark. Some of that is because he has no power play role to speak of, but he’s also just playing less at even strength.
He is averaging under 17 minutes per game at even strength this season, the lowest amount he’s played since signing with the Canucks in 2019.
He is clearly playing smarter hockey.
If your eyes have said Myers is committing fewer gaffes, the data does back that up.
Giveaways is a flawed stat because it can be somewhat subjective, but this season, Myers is averaging just 1.36 giveaways per 60 minutes, the lowest overall rate of his career.
And even if his ice time is down a little and he’s not a power play contributor anymore, his offensive game has been more productive — through 48 games this season he had 18 points, more than he had all last season, equal to what he tallied the season before, and well on course to record the most points he has had in blue and green. His Canucks-best season total is 21 points, which he racked up in each of his first two seasons in Vancouver, both shortened by the pandemic.
Asked about his success this season, Myers heaped praise on the coaching staff.
“I don’t go into the game wondering what I’m supposed to do in certain situations and that, personally, helps me a lot,” he said. “As a player I’m not guessing in every situation. I know exactly what we’re supposed to do.”
“The guys have really bought into what we’re trying to do within our structure, within our system. And there’s just a lot less guessing on the ice. There’s a lot less wondering what we’re supposed to do in certain situations — when we get the puck, and when we don’t have the puck. It’s becoming a lot more predictable, and we just need to keep working on getting more consistent with it.”
Here are a few other numbers we’re looking at this week ahead of the Canucks’ final game before the All-Star break, on Saturday versus the Columbus Blue Jackets at Rogers Arena.
Ilya Mikheyev hasn’t scored in 16 games. Andrei Kuzmenko hasn’t scored in 12 games.
They have been getting shots, but Tocchet said he thinks the wingers are playing too disjointed from each other.
“They’re too spread apart,” he said. “If you look at the other lines, whoever has the puck, the other guy is always close. If Garland has it, Teddy Blueger is around. If (J.T. Miller) has the puck, look at last night, (Pius) Suter’s right there.”
Nikita Zadorov’s benching in the third period on Thursday came on the tail end of a five-game stretch where the big defenceman has struggled. There has been more action in the Canucks’ end than at the opposition end.
Since joining the Canucks 23 games ago, Zadorov’s shot-attempts share at even-strength is at just 46 per cent. A fair bit of that dip has been in recent games.
The Canucks do believe in Zadorov’s talents and the effect he can have on the team’s game as a whole, so it’s no surprise that he sought out some extra attention before practice on Thursday.
“I don’t think he was that bad,” Tocchet said Friday morning. “I think he played really well against Toronto. … I like the fact that he likes to communicate with me.”
The Canucks, in the end, are doing lots of things right. Don’t lose sight of the fact of what they have been doing — the team has points in 10 straight games, a remarkable record.
Even with the Edmonton Oilers on an outlandishly hot streak, the Canucks’ success of late is keeping them in control of the Pacific Division.