When Paul Byron scored 22 goals in the 2016-17 season it was a career year, and many expected regression to what he had shown the previous season. Instead, 2016-17 was the beginning of the second stage of Byron’s career; one that got him a four-year, $13.6-million contract extension, an ‘A’ on his jersey, and made him an integral part of the team.
Byron’s 2018-19 season saw him deal with several injuries. He missed the season finale with a wrist injury, two games with a suspected concussion, six games with a forearm injury, and 14 games with a nagging lower-body injury in November. He also missed three games due a suspension.
On the surface, a 30-year-old missing over 20 games due to injury is not a good sign, but the injuries are not cause for future concern. Sure, the concussion is worrisome, but Byron won’t be getting into many more fights.
Despite playing 56 games, Byron still put up a good season. He had 15 goals and 16 assists, only four points less than the year before when he played in 82 games and hit the 20-goal plateau for the second consecutive season. Without his injuries, it’s safe to assume that Byron would have hit that mark for a third straight year.
It’s not only in his basic scoreline that his consistency showed. He was a remarkably consistent player even as the team had very different results from season to season. He also played with very different players. Last season, Byron’s two most likely centres were Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Max Domi — two players who weren’t even on the team in 2017-18.
Despite that, the process behind the results was the same. Below are Byron’s heat maps from the last three seasons.
With Byron on the ice, the high-danger area in front of the net lights up. While a winger doesn’t necessarily make an impact in that area, a lot of Byron’s chances come from there. After all, you don’t shoot from the blue line or the faceoff circle on a breakaway.
Byron isn’t just a breakaway machine. He heads to the net. A lot. I mean, a quick search brings up goals like this one:
Paul Byron deflects it off his skate and by Hutton to make it 4-3 Habs. pic.twitter.com/5HwvcGS1X3— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 24, 2019
Or this one:
Andrew Shaw cuts off Shea Weber's shot, and his rebound falls right to Paul Byron.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 9, 2019
2-1 Ducks late in the first. pic.twitter.com/Ujd2UJ6cSO
You get the point. His speed down the wing also opens up things down the centre of the ice as defencemen have trouble adjusting.
Paul Byron splits the Flyers defense and feeds Jesperi Kotkaniemi for his 11th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/3OLXdHRSir— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 22, 2019
Those three plays came within a month of each other, by the way.
Byron moved all around the lineup, with his time playing with Kotkaniemi and Domi taking up the majority of his even-strength minutes but he also played a lot with Nate Thompson in the latter part of the season, and even a bit of time with Phillip Danault. The ability for Byron to produce even when given less favourable matchups is what makes him so important.
I want to draw your attention to the blue boxes. You can barely tell them apart, and that’s the point. Usually if a player’s performance depends on his supporting cast, he will be all over the map (or the chart in this case) with different alignments. In Byron’s case, he’s simply the same player. It could be argued that he may have a bigger effect on others’ play than they have on his.
As he enters the first year of his newest contract extension, there could be questions about whether Byron provides value at the increased cap hit, but he has now established what he is as a player. He’s consistent in every facet of the game, and there’s no reason to expect things to be different this year.