MONTREAL - Heading into his second full season with the Canadiens, Paul Byron firmly believes his best is yet to come.
After being claimed off waivers last October from the Calgary Flames, Byron lit the lamp a career-high 11 times in 62 games, and generated 18 points while proving to be a defensive specialist, particularly on the penalty kill. Not only was Byron the Canadiens' second-most utilized forward in short-handed situations in 2015-16, but he also led Michel Therrien's troops with three short-handed markers as well.
In February, the Canadiens signed Byron to a three-year contract, making certain that the speedy left-winger would get a chance to continue making strides in his game for a team that puts quickness among its top priorities when bringing players on board.
"I think last year it was just a start for me. I really feel like I fit into the style of play here. I think I'm just going to continue getting better," said the 27-year-old Ottawa native, who is very much looking forward to his first training camp experience with the Canadiens. "There was an adjustment period coming over, but I was given the time to learn the system. That seemed to help me before being put in a game. I think I have a lot more to bring to this team, though. I want to keep pushing and improving."
Inking that three-year deal long before the end of the season meant the world to Byron, who had dealt with his fair share of uncertainty in the past. If anything, it provided him with peace of mind knowing that he wouldn't be on the move again anytime soon.
"It was a little weird watching free agency on July 1st and not worrying about it or panicking. It was refreshing, and it just kind of reassured me," shared Byron, who would have been an unrestricted free agent on Canada Day. "My whole life, my whole story has been about perseverance and fighting through tough situations. No matter how difficult a situation can be, you can always make a positive out of it. I remember how devastated I felt to learn that I was put on waivers, and then such a good thing came out of it. I learned that you can do anything if you stay positive and keep working hard."
With the foreseeable future sorted, Byron returned to Ottawa after the season to heal some bumps and bruises before starting up with his long-time trainer Adam Bracken again. The pair worked together up until June, while Byron and his wife, Sarah, sold and packed up their home in the nation's capital before settling into their new house in Candiac 10 weeks ago.
"We're settling in really well, finally starting to get things going around the house. There's furniture coming and we finally started to unpack everything," said the six-year NHL veteran, who joins the likes of Carey Price , Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw in the upscale South Shore neighborhood. "The kids [Elianna and Brysen] started pre-school and daycare in French in July, so they're transitioning into the French culture. We've had a lot of visitors already, too, family and friends. We love it. I love being close to the rink. "
Up until last season, Byron had spent the previous four years playing in Alberta and British Columbia, which certainly isn't as convenient as the setup he finds himself in at the moment. It's safe to say that in Byron's case, being a full-time Montrealer has plenty of perks.
"It's amazing. I've been out there for so many years that you kind of lose that sense of family and what it's like to be able to see them whenever you want. You don't realize how far it is. With the time zone changes, it was always hard to even get on calls and get on Skype," explained Byron, who fully appreciates the conveniences that come with residing so close to his hometown. "Being able to work out with the guys in Brossard and then go home for a weekend or spend the night is great. I'm pretty lucky. It's also cool that my family can come support me every game."
And, the reigning Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy winner is hoping to celebrate many, many wins with them all year long, and maybe even an extra special one in mid- June.
"The biggest thing I'm looking forward to is getting back to winning. We had a taste of that at the start of the year. I think everyone's excited to get back to that. The fans have the expectation for us to win, and that's the expectation that I have personally, too," concluded Byron. "What excites me about playing on this team is that with our core group, we can beat any team in the league. We can compete for the Stanley Cup. No one really picked Pittsburgh to win it last year. You watch what they did in the playoffs, and that could be us this time around. That's my motivating factor, for sure."