Paul Byron’s route to Montreal was an interesting one to say the least.
It’s possible that without the Zack Kassian incident early in 2015, the Canadiens wouldn’t have bothered to claim the speedy winger. There was reason for optimism despite the waiver status, as some Flames fans always saw an underlying potential in Byron’s game.
His first season was a revelation, as he cemented his spot in the roster as a useful support player, by scoring 11 goals in 62 games. He earned a comfortable three-year, $1.17 million contract in the process.
This season, however, Byron blew the roof off any reasonable projection, and became one of the best value players in the entire NHL.
Not only did he double his goal total, but he quickly became one of the fiercest weapons on the penalty kill, finishing the year with seven individual scoring chances; a top-five result throughout the NHL.
During five-on-five play Byron was excellent, boasting a 54.4% control of shot attempts, 56.7% control of scoring chances, and 55.8% edge in expected goals.
His fantastic production came mostly during even-strength play as well, making his offensive totals even more impressive.
He finished second to Pacioretty in five-on-five goals, with 19. That was good for 23rd in the entire NHL. For reference, Pacioretty’s 22 even-strength goals were 12th overall in the league. Once you factor in Byron’s relatively low ice time, his numbers look even better. His 1.19 goal per 60 minutes place him 18th in the NHL among forwards who played more than 400 minutes, directly ahead of Filip Forsberg, and slightly behind Vladimir Tarasenko.
Byron only cost the Canadiens $26,801 per point; a ridiculous bargain in today’s NHL. Only 18 players who played more than half the season provided better value to their teams, with Phillip Danault among them.
Simply put, Byron was an absolutely brilliant acquisition by Marc Bergevin, and is arguably the biggest coup of his tenure, no matter the reasons behind the original waiver claim.
The question remains: will Byron continue his torrid pace? He ended the season with a 22.5% shooting percentage, which is definitely an unrealistic target moving forward. But there’s a reason why Byron tends to score on a lot of his opportunities, and it resides in the quality of those chances. He trails only Danault among all Habs players in terms of high-danger scoring chances, and while he was on the ice the Habs controlled an incredible 73% of all high-danger goals.
Byron’s shooting percentage will undoubtedly go down, but I wouldn’t project it to crater, because he does a fantastic job generating quality chances.
As it stands he’s currently behind Max Pacioretty on the left wing depth chart, and will have to compete with Artturi Lehkonen for a spot on the second line.
A lot is riding on Byron to repeat his incredible performance from 2016-17. Fortunately the speedy winger should have ample opportunity to prove his worth to the new coach.
Even if he fails to reach the same heights as he did last season, which is a very real possibility, there’s very little doubt that Byron will continue to provide excellent value to the Montreal Canadiens, and in a salary cap world that’s an invaluable asset.
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