MONTREAL - It's been almost 10 years since Paul Byron silenced the naysayers when he was drafted 179th overall by the Buffalo Sabres at the 2007 draft in Columbus. Few, including Byron himself, believed he would find a taker. The forward instead spent his draft day at a cottage celebrating his brother's bachelor party.
It wasn't until the next day that he found out he had become the property of an NHL team.
"I told myself, 'I'm not getting drafted.' I didn't even follow the draft and when I woke up the next morning, I checked my phone and it was blowing up. Texts, missed calls," recalled the speedy winger. "I didn't have any of those numbers in my contacts. I had no idea what was going on."
Once the news sank in, Byron's surprise shifted to a feeling of pride.
"The feeling you get when you learn you're drafted -- especially if you didn't think it was going to happen -- is the best feeling of your life," he remembered. "At the time, it represented 14 years of work, since I started playing when I was four. It's quite the feeling to realize that you've just done something no one thought you'd be able to do."
Before the draft, Byron had taken part in a combine in Montreal, but he didn't get the sense at the time that it had helped him earn many NHL suitors.
"It was more about checking out any injuries, the general condition your body was in," he recalled. "I don't remember speaking to any people in management or anything like that."
His agent told him the Blues might be interested and he spoke to some people with the Islanders, but that was it. He had no idea the Sabres were planning to pluck him from the draft pool.
At the time, Byron was a skinny teen -- not the picture of what the fans and media would expect of an NHL-level draft pick.
"Some people in Buffalo were saying, 'Why would the Sabres waste a draft pick on a guy who weighs 133 pounds?" Byron remembered.
By his own admission, he wasn't exactly a frequent gym goer in his younger days.
"After discussing it with my coach, I started to bulk up," he mentioned. "I was never a gym guy, whereas a lot of the other guys would go all the time. In Midget, it gave them an advantage, but I kind of got by on my natural skill.
"As soon as I started putting time into the off-ice training, my game went up a notch," continued the former Gatineau Olympique. "It's fun to think back to the people who didn't believe in me and tell myself that I proved them wrong. People don't know you; all they're doing is making assumptions."
Byron also knew he'd have a fair shake with the Sabres.
"I remember being told that they had a lot of good, young, and small players. I told myself that they were a team who would give me a legitimate chance, who didn't draft me just for the sake of it," explained Byron, who joined the Canadiens via waivers in October 2015. "I was going to be a prospect and they were known to let their players walk to free agency in order to give their young prospects a chance."
Having been drafted in the sixth and final round, Byron has only one piece of advice for the young players who have to endure the long wait before their name is called on draft day.
"Don't let yourself get defined by where you got picked in the draft. It's just a number, and it doesn't mean anything because once you're with a team, you'll have the opportunity. Your draft ranking won't affect your chances of making the NHL. What counts is what you do in the AHL and in training camp to show management that you deserve ice time and you deserve what they're investing in you to give you more," he shared. "I played with Buffalo's farm team and we had first-round guys and seventh-round guys and no one had more opportunities than me because they were drafted higher. I worked hard and the coaches and management gave me a chance."