There are plenty of storylines throughout the Flames forward ranks.
Jiri Hudler has been Calgary’s most productive forward in recent weeks. Sean Monahan has solidified himself as the number one centre for the Flames. Johnny Gaudreau gets you out of your seat seemingly every time he touches the puck. All three of those forwards have garnered plenty of attention 28 games into the season.
But there’s one more forward who belongs in this conversation but isn’t getting as much attention, though, and that’s Paul Byron.
On the surface, Byron’s numbers don’t jump off the page at you. He has five goals and 10 points in 28 games this year, which is respectable but not overly remarkable. However, Byron’s value to the team goes beyond goals and assists. In fact, one third of the way through the season, I’d submit to you he’s been Calgary’s most consistent forward.
First off, his speed is an asset to this team. How many times have we seen him use that speed to get behind opposing defencemen and then burst into a breakaway? I know he’s been thwarted more often than not, but he’s going to keep getting those chances, and they’re eventually going to turn into goals. It’s more than just that, though. Byron’s speed meshes perfectly with how the Flames are designed to play.
Head coach Bob Hartley wants his team to play on their toes, using their hard and aggressive forecheck to force opposition mistakes. He preaches speed through the neutral zone and quick decisions on offensive zone entries. That’s Byron in a nutshell, especially this season.
When you factor in the work Byron has done on the penalty kill, his importance to this group becomes ever more clear. Byron averages 1:22 per game killing penalties, third amongst Calgary forwards, trailing only Lance Bouma and Matt Stajan. It would be even higher if the Flames weren’t the least penalized team in the league.
Byron’s worth to the Flames is backed up when looking at his season analytically, as well. Among regular forwards (more than 20 games), Byron has the best shot rate on the team for forwards, leading the way with a -2.84 Corsi rating. More simply put, Byron is spending more time in the offensive zone than any other forward on the team.
With an offensive zone start or 43.1%, he’s actually being deployed on fewer offensive face-offs than the vast majority of his teammates, yet spending more time in the offensive zone than any of them. Pretty impressive stuff when you take into consideration he wasn’t even a full time NHLer to start last season.
I don’t know how many people saw Byron turning into what he is now, but I know I certainly didn’t. When he was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres along with Chris Butler at the 2011 NHL Draft in Minnesota, he was the player being talked about least. Knowing what the market was for Robyn Regehr at the time, you have to say Calgary got a pretty good asset in a less-than-ideal bargaining spot.
Take into consideration that Byron doesn’t play in the same situations as some of the other forwards on this team. Players like Monahan and Curtis Glencross play the toughest head-to-head minutes on a regular basis while Hudler and Gaudreau are seeing a lot of shutdown lines from the opposition. That’s why it’s so important to have effective players when the match-ups become a little less difficult. Byron most certainly fits into that category.
28 games into a very promising 2014-2015 campaign, Calgary sits eight games above the .500 mark. The Flames have gotten timely scoring, incredible performances from their blueline, and very strong goaltending. Knowing how consistently effective Byron has been in his role so far this season, I also think it’s safe to say he’s a big part of why the Flames are where they are one third of the way through the year.