The Montreal Canadiens are starting off the 2016-17 season red-hot. New recruits Shea Weber, Alexander Radulov and Artturi Lehkonen have come as advertised and most importantly the Canadiens have a healthy Carey Price in net along with a proven backup in Al Montoya that looks up to the challenge of backing up an MVP goaltender in hockey’s craziest city.
Early season standings or statistics don’t mean much when it comes to deciding on how good a team or an individual player could be as the season progresses but it’s not all for nothing. When March comes around teams or players kick themselves for having a slow start to the season, because it can hinder the chances of a playoff spot.
Of the players that have started strong, Paul Byron is maybe the most underrated on the Canadiens roster. Byron has been a pleasant surprise since being claimed off waivers by Montreal in the early stages of the 2015 season. Now, Byron has evolved from strictly a role player to a guy who earned a new contract as a key part of the Montreal Canadiens lineup.
The Scenic Route
Paul Byron came into the league as a 6th round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2007. He stayed in the Sabres’ organization until a draft day trade involving Robyn Regehr sent him to Calgary where he spent the better part of three seasons moving up and down from the AHL, and struggling to take hold of a full-time National Hockey League position.
In 2015, just before the beginning of the new season, Byron was put on waivers by the Flames for likely another stint in the American Hockey League. The Canadiens were the only team to place a claim on Byron. TVA Sports Renaud Lavoie shed a bit of insight this past week on the Paul Byron acquisition in Montreal, when he joined Jeff Blair on Sportsnet’s the Fan590:
“When Byron was put on waivers, the Canadiens management went online and found a YouTube video called Paul “Breakway” Byron. They watched this guy just blow by everyone with his speed on countless breakaways and were blown away so they decided to put a claim in.” The rest is history.
Along with speed, Byron brings an unexpected scoring touch and excellent penalty killing skills. Along with Phillip Danault and Torrey Mitchell, the Canadiens now have a useful and effective fourth line that is also skilled, something not every team can say.
Byron, Danault and Mitchell make up half of the Canadiens’ bottom six forwards. This season through five games, some could argue they’ve been their best line. With a combined 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) and a plus/minus rating of +9 they’re providing a healthy dose of offense, combined with a shutdown style of play.
Byron has one goal and three assists to his name with his only goal coming on, you guessed it, a breakaway. So far, the fourth line has contributed on and off of the score sheet; they’ve put up a seemingly unsustainable amount of points and they’ve
also been excellent in shutting down opposing teams.
Different from the effective fourth line on the New York Islanders during the 2015-16 season that had a very physical element to it with Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin, the Canadiens’ 2016-17 edition has an underrated scoring touch along with shutdown ability. Although they are much smaller and less physical than that Islanders line, they can have as much of an impact on games as the Islanders’ line did.
Through five games it’s easy to sit here and tell you how great this line is. But the simple fact is that it’s only been five games. As good as the Canadiens are playing now as a whole, that could all change drastically as we saw last season. However, if this line can be 75% as effective as they’ve been so far, they have a chance to be one of the more dangerous fourth lines in the league.
Underrated No More
Byron has proved to the Montreal Canadiens that he can be more than just a role player. He’s a dangerous weapon to have on the penalty kill, he can play a shutdown role along with playing with an offensive splash. Byron was looking for a chance and the Canadiens swooped in and gave him one, he took advantage of it and now is one of the most important players on the roster. Paul Byron is an NHL hockey player, he is underrated no more.
Nick Guido is a Montreal Canadiens Contributor for The Hockey Writers. You can Follow him on Twitter @nickguidoTHW for his articles, opinions and general Habs talk.