Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
According to NHL.com, the Calder Memorial Trophy is "given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League".
The key word in that statement is proficient, which Merriam-Webster defines as "well-advanced in an art, occupation, or branch of knowledge".
This year, there are a handful of players who could be described as well- advanced in their occupation as NHLers, although there is one player -- Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers -- who is standing taller than the rest of the field in more ways than one.
A couple things jump out at you after taking a quick glance at Myers' bio. First of all, his height is listed at 6-8, making him taller than Tampa Bay's rookie defenseman Victor Hedman, who at 6-6 was picked second overall in the 2009 draft thanks to his combination of size and skill.
Tyler Myers is leading Buffalo with over 23 minutes of ice time per contest.
Secondly, Myers' hometown is listed as Houston, TX, which isn't exactly noted as a hockey hotbed. However, a closer look reveals that Myers' family moved to Calgary when he was 10 years old, a relocation that no doubt helped his on-ice development. Also, fans of USA Hockey should be informed that despite Myers' dual citizenship, he has decided to play internationally for Canada and helped the Canadians win a gold at the 2009 World Junior Championships in Ottawa.
The Sabres knew they selected a talented player when they picked Myers with the 12th overall pick in the 2008 draft, but even they couldn't have predicted him making such a big impact as a 19-year-old rookie.
Despite having never skated in an NHL game prior to this season, Myers is leading Buffalo, the top team in the Northeast Division, with over 23 minutes of ice time per contest. Through his first 50 games in the NHL, Myers is one of the biggest reasons the Sabres are towering above the competition in the Northeast, a division that was dominated last season by the Boston Bruins and their own mammoth defenseman Zdeno Chara.
While the 6-9 Chara dominated the opposition physically on his way to a Norris Trophy last year, Myers is not nearly as bulky as the Bruins veteran D-man and uses his size more as an asset in terms of reach and positioning. Myers also doesn't possess Chara's legendary booming slapshot, but he is a more fluid offensive player than his Boston counterpart. Chara has 28 points on four goals and 24 assists this year, while Myers has 29 points on seven goals and 22 helpers.
In addition to leading his team in ice time, Myers is also first among Buffalo blueliners in goals, assists and points and he is second to his defensive partner Henrik Tallinder with a plus-8 rating.
It's really hard to imagine a player having this much success so soon at what is an extremely difficult position to adjust to at the NHL level. A prospect who projects as a top-two defenseman in junior hockey isn't actually expected to fulfill that promise for several years after entering the NHL.
In fact, before the season started it seemed likely that Myers would be sent back to his junior club after playing in nine games, as his three-year rookie contract didn't kick in until his 10th appearance in an NHL game. That meant Myers had just nine games to prove to Buffalo management that he was essential to the Sabres' 2009-10 plans and he was able to do just that.
Myers, who will turn 20 years old on Feb. 1, has helped improve a Sabres club that was already solid last year despite finishing two points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Coming into this year, Buffalo already had a roster filled with blossoming talent and Myers jumping into the mix as a fully-formed NHL star was an unexpected, but welcome blessing.
John Tavares and Matt Duchene, the first and third overall picks in the 2009 draft, respectively, are Myers' main competition for the Calder this year. The centermen are the top-two leading rookie scorers this year, with Duchene leading the way with 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) and Tavares right behind him with 32 points on 17 goals and 15 helpers.
Philadelphia forward James van Riemsdyk has 30 points (12g, 18a) and completes the list of rookies who have more points than Myers this season. In terms of defensemen, only Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers is the only rookie near Myers in terms of scoring with 24 points. However, Del Zotto has a minus-15 rating on the season and he has just 12 points following a great October.
Hedman, meanwhile, is having a solid, but unspectacular first year for the Lightning. The Swede has 14 points (4g, 10a) and 42 penalty minutes to go with a minus-seven rating in his first 48 games at the NHL level.
However, the Calder race can hardly be the first thing on Myers' mind. After all, he has become an integral part of this Sabres club that so far this season has played like a serious contender for the Stanley Cup title.
But that is putting the cart before the horse. It still remains to be seen if Myers can withstand the grind of a full NHL regular season, let alone help the Sabres in a bid for the first Stanley Cup in club history.
Luckily for Buffalo, Myers has practically his whole NHL career before him and that should leave plenty of time to claim trophies of all shapes and sizes.