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Paul Byron’s versatility allows for lineup flexibility

Montreal’s high-speed utility man has the talent to play all over the lineup, and that will likely be the case this year.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Minus a fourth-line wing and a 13th forward, the Montreal Canadiens forward group seems pretty well set in stone. Perhaps the most interesting case is that of Paul Byron who could be penciled in on almost any line. His versatility can allow Claude Julien a bit of relief as he shapes his roster heading into the regular season. Outside of the trio of Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault, and Tomas Tatar, the entire lineup is up in the air right now and that gives Byron a chance to carve out a solid top-six role once again.

Looking at his time last year, Byron spent the majority of his season primarily alongside Max Domi or Jesperi Kotkaniemi, with either Artturi Lehkonen or Joel Armia on the opposite wing. Even with that in mind, Byron found himself all over the lineup during the second half of the season, seeing time with Andrew Shaw, Jordan Weal, and Nate Thompson down the stretch. Each of the lines he was on played a different role, and Byron slid into those spots with ease each and every time. A guy good for at least 15 goals a year, with speed to catch even the quickest of defenders off guard, is a great piece to add to any line at a given time.

As we see in the graphic above, Byron plays against pretty much everyone, from the top to the bottom lines, and that is perhaps his biggest asset in Montreal. Being able to play both left and right wing plays into this flexibility. On the right side, Byron is almost certainly the clear-cut second wing behind Gallagher and will battle Armia for a bigger role, while Dale Weise will almost assuredly be a fourth line/AHL option. Even beyond that the options aren’t overwhelming unless someone like Weal shifts to the wing, or a prospect like Ryan Poehling or Nick Suzuki slides in with a dominant camp.

On the left side, Byron is in the midst of a deep group with Tatar, Lehkonen, Jonathan Drouin, and the newly acquired Nick Cousins. At the very least it’s easy to pencil in Byron above Cousins, but the competition gets a bit tougher from there given the talent of Drouin, and Lehkonen’s continued ability to play up and down the lineup like Byron.

Leaving the left side alone due to the fact it’s top three wingers are signed for the next few years, it seems like Byron will be called upon to anchor the right side. And that’s a good thing. Playing with high-level teammates hasn’t phased the veteran winger, and while he was playing with Kotkaniemi and Domi last year, the Canadiens maintained a positive shot differential when they were on the ice. But even beyond that, playing fourth-line minutes with Nate Thompson transformed the bottom line into an actual threat, as opposed to a group attempting to just not be scored on.

While he played the fourth most time among forwards with 77 minutes on the penalty kill, Byron showed an apt ability to neutralize opposing power plays as well, giving Julien another worthwhile option to pair up with Danault or other penalty killers on the team.

It seemed like wherever Julien stuck Byron in the lineup, he found some measure of success and that is a big thing for a team that is looking to end a short playoff drought. They can move a guy who is guaranteed to post double-digit goals up and down the lineup on any given night and have the peace of mind to know he’ll fit right into that role.

Even more importantly is that when the cache of prospects begins to hit the professional level, Paul Byron can be one of those players moved around to find the best fit for players like Cole Caufield or Jesse Ylönen in the future. Already one of the NHL’s best value pick-ups, 30-year-old Byron shows no signs of slowing down and will continue to be a major asset going forward in Montreal.