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Thursday, April 15, 2010
Towers of blue-line power collide!


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- As I looked up to Tyler Myers on Thursday morning in the Buffalo Sabres' dressing room -- waaay up -- I made him chuckle when I pointed out that, for once, he would not be the tallest player on the ice in this playoff series. That honor, of course, will belong to Boston's Zdeno Chara.

An intriguing facet of this first-round playoff series will be the presence of these two towering blueliners, the 6-foot-8 Myers and 6-9 Chara. The Sabres rookie has kept a close eye on the Bruins' captain over the years, finding no better model to follow given the height similarity.

"Yeah, I've watched him, especially the last two years when I was in junior," Myers said on the morning of Game 1. "Especially how he uses his size to his advantage, his long reach with his stick, how he uses his body position. He's definitely a guy I like to learn from. It's a little strange going up against him here in the first round."

Perhaps there's a kindred spirit of sorts between the two giants, because the 33-year-old Chara has also noticed the kid 13 years his junior patrolling the Sabres' blue line this season.

"He's playing extremely well," Chara said during the morning's pregame skate. "He's a hell of a skater for his size, and a good puck-mover. He's got really outstanding patience with the puck. For sure, he's going to be a hell of a player."

The last aspect of Myers' game that hasn't come around yet is his nasty, physical side. That will perhaps come with time. That's where Chara and Myers are different at this point.

"He's a lot meaner than me, for sure," Myers said with a smile. "I think the physical play will elevate once I get stronger."

Myers hasn't yet filled out. The Sabres rookie is a skinny 220 pounds, while Chara weighs in at 255. Believe me, when they both took their equipment off Thursday, you could really the difference. Myers is only 20, so he'll fill out more. He's got a target in mind.

"I'll see where 230 takes me," Myers said. "I'll get to that point, and if I need to go up, I'll go up."

It's been a constant battle for Myers to try to keep the weight on. No matter how much he eats, he still can't put on much weight. The first World Poutine (eating) Championship is being staged in Toronto on May 22. Maybe Myers should enter. He did his best during the Olympic break to stock up.

"I went home and sat on the couch the whole time and just re-fuelled and got a lot of food in me," Myers said. "Basically just slept the whole time and ate, so it was a good break."

It was a good break because Myers needed it. While he appears to have avoided the rookie wall most kids face in their first NHL season -- playing more than 23 minutes a night over 82 games -- the Olympic break was well-timed.

"A week or two before the Olympic break, it was getting pretty tiring," Myers said. "But I think that break allowed me to recharge the batteries and come back with more energy."

He finished strong, capping a 48-point, plus-13 campaign. The ease with which Myers took the NHL by storm is appreciated by Chara, who struggled in his early NHL years to figure out his game before becoming one of the league's elite blueliners and winning the Norris Trophy last season.

"At his age, I was nowhere near to his performance," Chara said. "I probably got better later on. For a guy in his first year and doing so well, that's really impressive."

All of which just reinforces why Myers should win rookie of the year honors, although there's stiff competition from Jimmy Howard, Matt Duchene, John Tavares and Chara's goalie Tuukka Rask.

"I'm trying not to think about that right now until our season is over," Myers said of the Calder Trophy talk. "Obviously, there are a lot of whispers about it and you can't really avoid it. At the same time, it's exciting to hear those things and I'll worry about that when the time comes."

In the meantime, let's work on that playoff beard. As of Thursday morning, the peach fuzz on Myers' chin wasn't very thick.

"And I started [growing it] about two months ago," Myers joked.