MONTREAL – He may stand nearly foot taller than most of his teammates, but Ryan O’Byrne is finally getting noticed these days.
After suffering through a tough 2008-09 season, O’Byrne spent the offseason getting himself back on track and has been chugging full steam ahead ever since.
“I feel like I’ve established myself this season and I feel a lot more like I’m a part of this team now,” explained the 25-year-old defenseman. “Before, there were times when I’d get on the ice and I wouldn’t know if I was going to have rubbery legs out there or not. Now, when I make a mistake, I’m able to just put it behind me and move on. I feel more comfortable, where I can slow down the game a little and lay some big hits on guys without taking myself out of position.”
No stranger to throwing his weight around, O’Byrne currently leads all Habs rearguards with 104 hits in just 50 games so far this year. His new-found confidence could also have something to do with the All-Star patrolling the D-zone alongside him. With the departure of Andrei Markov
’s former blue line buddy, Mike Komisarek, O’Byrne has stepped in seamlessly as the team’s new bruiser on the back end.
“Komisarek and Markov had a good chemistry and my style is a lot like Komo’s,” offered the 6-foot-5 rearguard. “Markov understands my style of game and he knows how to play with me. So far, we’ve been successful together.”
While fans and teammates alike know Markov as a man of few words, his new protégé has been hanging onto every last precious syllable from his blue line comrade.
“He gives me advice and little things to try all the time. Everything he’s told me so far has been really helpful and it’s only helped the two of us get better as D partners,” admitted O’Byrne. “We’re getting more and more comfortable playing together and I think he has a lot of confidence in me now.”
Markov isn’t the only one. With a seasoned defensive corps that counts an average of 770 games of experience per blue-liner, O’Byrne’s 120 career games played hardly makes him a veteran. But that hasn’t stopped his coach from throwing him out against some of the best snipers the NHL has to offer night after night.
“We have a lot of depth on our blue line and the coach doesn’t hesitate to send any of our pairs out there against the other teams’ top lines. For me, that’s made all the difference,” described O’Byrne, who has enjoyed a plus-4 differential since joining forces with Markov. “Before, I was always out there against the third or fourth line but when your coach is willing to put you out against the best players in the league, it’s a huge boost in confidence.”
Being paired with an All-Star like Markov never hurts in that department, either.Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Shauna Denis.See alsoPlayoff race