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X-Factor

Paul Byron's speed key to Canadiens

Forward's ability to break game open gives Montreal added weapon

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- Paul Byron once doubted if any of this would happen. 

Back in the summer of 2013, Byron was 24 and in contract negotiations with the Calgary Flames. He didn't have much bargaining power coming off a season when he played four NHL games and had 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 38 games with Abbottsford of the American Hockey League. 

Byron wanted $20,000 more than he was offered but the Flames weren't budging, so he began considering interest he was receiving from teams in Switzerland and the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. 

Ultimately, he took the Flames' offer and decided to continue pursuing his dream of an NHL career. 

Over the next two seasons Byron put up 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists) in 104 games with the Flames, who tried to sneak him through waivers on Oct. 6, 2015, one day before the start of the 2015-16 season. 

 

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It was a day that would change Byron's life and career. 

The Montreal Canadiens claimed him and in his second game in a Canadiens uniform, Byron scored his first goal for Montreal and added an assist against the Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. 

It would prove to be only a taste of what he would mean to the Canadiens and why the Flames would regret putting him on waivers.

This season, the first of a three-year, $3.5 million contract he signed on Feb. 23, 2016, Byron is second on the Canadiens with 22 goals, plays an important role on the penalty kill and is a key component of coach Claude Julien's top shutdown line with Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher. 

"Sometimes you can reflect and wonder how your life could be different, you could be shopping in Russia and not even knowing what you're getting at the grocery store," Byron said. "Obviously coming to Montreal has been the best thing that could ever happen to me."

Byron's speed is his greatest asset, giving him the ability to break a game open by turning a seemingly innocuous loose puck in the neutral zone into a breakaway.

That speed could be a big factor in the Canadiens getting past the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and making a deep postseason run. 

"There's a few things," Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher said when asked to explain why Byron gets so many breakaways. "It's who he's on the ice with understanding that he's a guy with speed and getting him the puck, it's him understanding open areas on the ice and reading the play and being able to jump and timing it. You can't just go right away, you've got to time it to when the puck comes and be going at that time. 

"But obviously, the speed helps." 

The Canadiens are hoping it does more than help.

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