When Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin picked up Paul Byron off waivers on October 6th from Calgary there was a lot of questions as to where this diminutive forward would fit in a fairly stacked forward roster.
The Habs had just recently suspended Zack Kassian, and a roster spot had thus opened up. A lot of questions were raised when the waiver claim happened, as Byron was essentially an unknown commodity, and the initial concern was over his lack of size being a poor replacement for Kassian's grit.
But it was the reaction of Calgary Flames fans, who bemoaned the loss, which began to slowly paint the picture of a misunderstood player; one who plays above his size with tenacity, and elite top-end speed. The move may have raised some eyebrows, but Byron was looking to prove his doubters wrong.
Three months later, Byron leads the entire league with five shorthanded points; three goals and two assists.
Though these numbers come from a small sample, Byron's 4.8 points per 60 shorthanded minutes is absolutely ridiculous. He's a great traditional penalty killer, who uses an active stick and good positioning in his own zone to disrupt his opponents puck movement.
But beyond that, the acceleration and speed he possesses make him extremely dangerous as well. If the puck so happens to get through the opposing defensemen at the blueline, he will go after it, and is capable of beating almost anyone in a foot race.
His old team learned that the hard way:
The very next night against the Winnipeg jets, it became clear that this was no fluke. Byron will attack while his team is down a man, and you won't catch him once he's in alone.
The Montreal Canadiens PK% currently sits fourth in the League, which is remarkable given their difficult month of December. Much of that success can be attributed to the fact that they lead the league in shorthanded goals with eight, so opposing teams need to be cautious.
And Byron is a major reason for that, as he has factored in on five of those eight goals.
In hockey there are no designated special teams players, so you have to carry your weight at even strength as well. Byron has bounced around the line-up quite a bit in that situation, playing on three different lines with little consistency in his linemates.
He had a coming out party of sorts at the Winter Classic against the Boston Bruins where he registered his first multi-goal game, scoring twice and getting the game winner. This raised his season total to 10 points, half of which have come during the penalty kill.
The penalty kill is definitely his bread and butter, but how does he do at even strength? Well, he doesn't have sparkling numbers, but they are definitely respectable.
(CF% = Corsi For %, iHDSC = individual high-danger scoring chances, SF/60 = shots for per 60 minutes, SA/60 = shots against per 60 minutes, SF% = shots for percentage, GF/60 = Goals for per 60 minutes, GA/60 = Goals against per 60 minutes, GF% = Goals for percentage ZSO = fraction of offensive vs defensive zone starts. All stats 5 vs 5, via war-on-ice.com)
When you look at the fact that he starts a significant majority of his shifts in the defensive zone, you could even make the argument that he's been excellent defensively. Despite his largely defensive deployment, when he's on the ice the team has a positive shot, and shot-attempt differential.
The caveat to this is that his numbers conversely show him being out-chanced, and outscored at even strength. This can easily serve to overshadow the positive shot and shot-attempt differentials. That said, you can't realistically expect positives in all of these categories with the deployment he's had.
The end take away from looking at his numbers is that he's essentially been put in a sacrificial role at even strength, and he's doing well, all things considered.
This is a player that the Canadiens got for free, and with the way he's played, he might just be the waiver wire pickup of the year in the NHL.