Ask anyone at Montreal Canadiens training camp about Josh Anderson and they’ll say the one thing that surprised them about the big winger is his speed.
No, seriously. They were asked. From Nick Suzuki, to Tomas Tatar, to Jeff Petry, they never realized just how fast Anderson was.
“He’s just a powerhorse,” said Tatar after Monday’s practice. “I knew he was fast but you don’t really realize it until you’re working with a guy every day.”
“It’s shocking that a guy that big moves as well as he does,” Petry said. “He’s up there with Paul Byron as one of the fastest guys on our team.”
The Canadiens aren’t the only ones to be surprised.
If you want a sample of Josh Anderson’s speed, and Alex Romanov’s backwards skating ability: pic.twitter.com/OSifqFXpEP— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) January 9, 2021
From short videos at camp, to Sunday night’s scrimmage, Anderson just glides down the ice effortlessly. It doesn’t take long to see what Marc Bergevin saw in him, as the Canadiens general manager again admitted Monday on TSN690 that he had wanted to acquire the 6’3”, 226-pound winger for a while.
It’s fitting that Petry alluded to Byron when discussing Anderson. When Byron was claimed off waivers five years ago, people didn’t know much about him. The head coach at the time, Michel Therrien, infamously called his general manager to tell him that he thought they got the wrong guy. Byron is small, unassuming. He’s listed as not only the shortest player on the team, but the lightest. Once Byron entered the lineup in place of Alexander Semin, one thing stood out: speed. Five years later, Byron is part of the team’s leadership group and Semin failed to last the season.
When Anderson was acquired, it wasn’t on waivers. He was the one piece coming back in a trade that saw Max Domi and a draft pick going the other way. Shortly after being acquired, before even wearing a Canadiens jersey, he was signed to a seven-year, $38.5 million contract. All for someone who had one goal and was coming off a season-ending shoulder injury.
People looked at the size, and thought Bergevin was paying a price for something the team lacked, and has been lacking anecdotally since he took over. Once he took to the ice, however, that wasn’t what stuck out. Like Byron, size was the first impression. Like Byron, speed was the other dimension.
Nothing has come easy for Paul Byron. When he spoke to the media on Sunday afternoon, he was unfazed about several things. He didn’t pay any attention to trade rumours or calls for him to be out of a job when the team added other forwards. In fact, you could say he looked forward to the opportunity.
“It’s my fifth camp here, and I think every time I’ve started on the fourth line,” he said.
It’s easy to see Byron’s role and his salary and the disconnect between the two, but in a season where depth and versatility are key, Byron brings everything to the table. He can kill penalties, he can play tough minutes, but he can also be moved up and down the lineup depending on injuries and other factors.
He’s coming off of a season, like Anderson, that had people questioning what he would be able to do on a Canadiens team that has high expectations.
In two scrimmages with the team, he scored two goals — including one shorthanded — on breakaways. He was once again sending a message to everyone who doubted him.
Both Byron and Anderson represent different spectrums of the big and small Canadiens. Despite the differences in their physical stature, they have proven themselves with similar physical traits. Coming off of a season that saw them both have disappointing, injury-plagued years, they have to prove their last impression isn’t the lasting one.