Paul Byron: The Underrated Utility

In a league of giants, Paul Byron stands at 5 feet 8 inches and weighs only 158 pounds. Despite this, the Ottawa native has found a way to excel in the big leagues. Life in the NHL isn’t easy for smaller players, as the action is hard-hitting, grind-heavy and since there is very limited space to manoeuvre on the ice. Byron, like many smaller players, uses his speed to survive.

The Canadiens claimed the undersized winger off waivers from the Calgary Flames in early October of 2015, and since then, he has done more than just survive for his team.

Anywhere, Anytime, Any Place

Byron’s flexibility makes him an important asset to the Habs’ coaches. The winger is able to play on any of the Canadiens’ four lines, and while he isn’t a natural top-six scorer, he can be effective in any given role. Habs fans have seen this over the last year or so, as Byron has delivered regardless of the scenario.

In addition to being his means of survival in the NHL, the winger’s speed is also the reason for his utility. Whether Byron is flying down the wing, beating opposing players to pucks, splitting the defence or cycling the puck and tiring out opposing defencemen, he uses his speed as effectively as anyone.

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Byron’s speed has made him one of the Canadiens’ penalty killing specialists. Opposing teams know that one minor error when on the man advantage can lead to a breakaway for the Habs, and this causes them to grip their sticks a little tighter. See the video above for an example of this explosiveness on the PK.

If you really need someone to work a cycle game on your top line, forecheck hard on the bottom line or dominate the game on the penalty kill, Byron is your go-to guy.

Byron’s Hidden Stats

Byron, a former sixth-round pick, doesn’t produce a high number of points. In fact, in 213 career NHL games, the winger only has 74 points. Though these numbers aren’t extremely impressive, Byron often makes his presence felt off the scoresheet. The league’s second-lightest player (only behind Johnny Gaudreau) may not have the most accurate shot or the smoothest hands, but his speed and explosiveness make him a man to watch for opposing teams.

While teams have to pay special attention to the speedster, his linemates are given more ice and time with the puck. The winger also forechecks extremely well, as his speed and persistence is surely a bother to opposing defencemen. Since these stats can’t be recorded by the NHL, they generally go unnoticed. Byron makes the Habs a much more difficult team to play against, while many don’t even realize.

The Bottom Line

Byron brings value to the Canadiens, as his quickness makes the team more dangerous to play against. Opposing teams know that the margin for error when #41 is on the ice is very small, since one small hiccup can result in a breakaway for the Habs. Though he’s small in stature, he has had a large impact on the Habs through his tenure with the club thus far.

Considering that the Habs claimed the winger off waivers at no cost, he has turned out to be a solid find for team General Manager, Marc Bergevin. Though some criticized the forward’s contract extension in February of last season, Byron is proving that he is an extremely useful part of a team with a speedy identity.